Breaking barriers: a female engineer’s journey in the data centre industry

Breaking barriers: a female engineer’s journey in the data centre industry

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Kaki Liu: Breaking Barriers and Inspiring Future Female Engineers at Black & White Engineering on International Women in Engineering Day.

In celebration of International Women in Engineering Day earlier this month, Kaki Liu, associate director within the data centre team at MEP design consultancy Black & White Engineering, shares her career path into engineering, the challenges and rewards of working in the industry and tips for aspiring female engineers.

“My interest in engineering began at school where I really enjoyed mathematics and physics. During my school years, the idea of solving complex problems and creating tangible solutions hugely interested and motivated me and this led me to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London. The decision to specialise in mechanical engineering was driven by its versatility and the exciting prospects it offered.

"Attending an all-girls school, I was encouraged to pursue STEM subjects without bias and this passion was solidified during my time at Imperial College. When I graduated, I joined AECOM as a graduate engineer, where I gained extensive training in project management, negotiation skills and other critical areas. This early career phase was crucial for building a strong foundation and vital practical experience.

"During my time at AECOM, I progressed from a graduate engineer to a senior engineer, gaining significant project responsibilities. One notable project was the Northern Estate Programme, part of the UK Parliamentary Estate, where I served as the lead mechanical engineer. This role involved managing a team, conducting site inspections and ensuring project milestones were met.

"At B&W Engineering, I currently serve as an associate director focusing on data centre projects. My role involves leading mechanical engineering efforts for key clients and I am responsible for project deliverables, client management and technical support. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is knowing that our work has a significant impact on the environment as surplus heat from data centres contribute to local district heating networks - providing heating to thousands of homes.

"Throughout my career, I have fortunately not encountered any significant obstacles due to my gender which I’m hugely grateful for. The field of engineering is grounded in facts and principles, making it an environment where technical skills and knowledge take precedence. However, I recognise that unconscious bias exists and believe it is crucial to address and overcome it by maintaining professionalism and demonstrating competence.

"The presence of women in engineering has increased significantly since I began my career. While the gender ratio is improving, it is essential to continue promoting STEM among young women and providing support for those returning to work after maternity leave. The fast-paced nature of the data centre design industry can make it challenging to catch up after a break, and additional training and support are necessary.

"In my experience, the technical abilities of engineers are not determined by gender. Both male and female engineers bring valuable skills and perspectives to the field. It is essential to focus on individual capabilities rather than gender-based distinctions.

"To young women considering a career in engineering, I cannot emphasise enough that technical proficiency is key. Gender should never be taken into consideration. We are fortunate to live in a world today where society is increasingly recognising and valuing diversity in the workplace. It is important to be aware of unconscious bias but also to remain focused on demonstrating your expertise and professionalism.

"Mentorship has played a significant role in my career development. Early in my career, mentors provided guidance and helped me navigate the various paths available in engineering. Building relationships with experienced professionals can offer new perspectives and opportunities for growth.

"To support more women in engineering, the industry must continue to promote STEM education and provide training for those returning from career breaks. At B&W, we strive to treat everyone equally and fairly, ensuring that all employees have the same opportunities to succeed.

"Engineering is a rewarding and impactful sector and, as we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, I encourage aspiring female engineers to pursue their passion with confidence and to seek out mentorship and support along the way. Together, we can continue to break barriers and drive innovation in the engineering industry.”

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