“Sometimes when I’m the only woman or the youngest in the room I can feel a bit intimidated at voicing my opinion, but I’ve learnt to trust myself, and my peers and I now am a lot more confident in my own skin”
Benita Husband is Director of Strategy at Norman Disney & Young (NDY), a Tetra Tech Company, and a member of NDY’s Group Executive.
Benita is a Fellow of Engineers Australia, and a committee member for the Victorian Division of Engineers Australia. She enjoys being involved in the industry and is a member of the Building Regulation Advisory Committee and a Science Ambassador for Museum Victoria’s Scienceworks.
Benita is passionate about encouraging more women and girls to consider STEM career options, often speaking at schools. She has been the recipient of two National Association of Women in Construction awards, and in 2017 participated in the international #Celebratingwomen campaign.
Born in Queensland, Benita’s family moved a lot during her childhood so she went to several schools in Queensland, ACT, and Tasmania. Having completed her Engineering degree in Tasmania she moved to Melbourne with her husband. They enjoy living near the bay (her husband is a keen windsurfer) and she has embraced the city through her involvement with Committee for Melbourne and joining the Melbourne Forum. She still hasn’t picked a footy team (although her son wants her to barrack for Geelong).
Benita enjoys watching her children explore and discover, and is excited about what careers they may end up in (and the fact these might not exist yet). Studying engineering satisfied Benita’s thirst for science and maths, whilst providing a structured career path.
Since finishing her Bachelor degree Benita has continued to study. She completed Lighting Engineering at RMIT University in 2002, became a Registered Communications Distribution Designer in 2004, completed an Executive MBA in 2016 and Graduated from the Australian Institute of Company Directors in 2017.
What is the biggest challenge to all women pursuing a career in Engineering?
I am not sure about ‘all women’ but for me one of the biggest challenges has being that I don’t always feel like I fit in.
When I finished Uni I moved to Melbourne and I had no family here. Other than my (now) husband and other friends who had moved to Melbourne to pursue graduate careers I knew no one. So I had assumed that I would meet lots of friends at work. It wasn’t as easy as I had assumed. I was one of the only women, and I was a lot younger than everyone else – by a long way. Everyone in Melbourne seemed to have gone to the same unis, or the same school, or followed the same football team. But eventually I learnt that I don’t have to be the same age, or like the same things as someone to enjoy their company and them mine. I’ve also expanded my work circle to be much broader than my company. I’ve studied, I’ve joined networks and organisations, and I’ve made friends with other consultants and clients.
Sometimes when I’m the only woman or the youngest in the room I can feel a bit intimidated at voicing my opinion, but I’ve learnt to trust myself, and my peers and I now am a lot more confident in my own skin.
I’m conscious though that others may not have the same inherent confidence, so try to include others when I sense we have ‘group think’ in a meeting or if someone isn’t bring their whole self to a conversation.
What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?
I have often been told by clients that they enjoy working with me because I can translate ‘engineering speak’ into ‘plain English’. Whilst I’m not a master wordsmith, I do think that the skill that has been most useful to me in my career is ‘being a good communicator’. I think that to be a good communicator you don’t need to just be able to explain things well, but also to listen. For example I think there is no point designing an engineering solution until you first understand the brief. For a lot of our clients, they will only specify one building in their whole career – so they need help first distilling their requirements into a brief that can go to market.
What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success?
Very early in my career I was lucky enough to have people who gave me critical feedback when I needed it, and they pushed me to reach my full potential. Its not easy receiving (or giving) critical feedback, and at the time I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was. Those same people advocated for me, and though I didn’t realise it at the time I think they are what you would call ‘sponsors’.
Now that I am in a more senior position I try to ‘pay it forward’ by advocating for others, and taking the time out to provide feedback. Its not easy giving feedback, and realising that has made me appreciate it even more when people give me that gift.
I also seek out people that will push me out of my comfort zone and drive me to achieve my best – and I’ve realised that this doesn’t need to be my line manager necessarily. At times its my girlfriends, husband or colleagues.
What do you love most about your professional role in STEMM?
The thing I love most about engineering is the tangible product of our projects. I can look out of a window in the CBD of Melbourne and point to a number of projects I have worked on. I can watch movies and see cities and say ‘I’ve been there’. When I had to travel to Sydney for work recently my daughter asked “Mummy WHY do you have to go to Sydney again?” and my son replied “Well, who else is going to design all the buildings in Sydney if mummy doesn’t go??” I’ve been on the tram and heard people talking about projects I’ve been involved with, and it never gets old, it always makes me so proud.
How do you cope with self-doubt? How do you cope with imposter syndrome?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a lot of leadership development over my career, which has taught me self reflection. If ever I have self doubt I acknowledge it. Often just acknowledging it for what it is – can be enough to push through. If the feelings persist, I check in with someone who’s opinion I respect (depending on whether its a technical or a management or leadership issue).
I find sharing these experiences really helpful. The more I speak with other senior women the more I realise they have similar feelings from time to time. Realising its normal, and being able to name it and recognise it for what it is, has been really useful.
I also have a really strong network of friends, family and colleagues I can connect with when I need to. I think the difference between myself and others is that I actually do tap into them. I see many other people try to struggle through on their own. I think that people genuinely love helping others (I know I do), so when I need a pep talk or to validate my thinking with someone – I always reach out.
LinkedIn: Benita Husband