Meet Project Director of Signalling at Alstom, Joanne Gad. Over her 16-year career in engineering, Joanne has faced almost every conceivable barrier of working in a male dominated sector. Fed up and about to leave the industry, one manager reignited her passion for engineering and inspired 24-year-old Joanne to stay in the game. Today, thriving in her role at Alstom and as Chair of Women in Engineering VIC, Joanne educates and inspires young female engineers to realise their potential.
“As a female graduate engineer sixteen years ago, my position wasn’t respected. I was managing high-rise building sites. When I walked on site to meet the contractors they said, ‘Honey, bring us coffee.’ I said, ‘I’m the project manager.’ They said ‘You?! You can’t be.’ From there, I put them in their place - and they respected me.’
Yet, continuing to face sexism onsite and in the office, Joanne was close to throwing in the towel.
“One manager made it clear that gender didn’t matter. He pushed me - not as a female engineer, but as an engineer. He brought up my confidence and helped me believe in myself. I began to take on roles across different sectors and move up the ranks, managing multi-million-dollar projects. It could have been so different if he didn’t see light in me. It was only when I started to respect myself that I really kick-started my career. Eventually, people started to look past my gender and see me as an engineer in my own right.”
Taking four years away from work to have her children posed a new set of challenges for Joanne’s career.
“It was tough. I had to build my profile again from scratch. I felt out of touch with the industry, and there wasn't any flexibility for working parents - but I found my way and re-entered the industry in telecommunications engineering where I upskilled for 8 years.”
Thriving at Alstom
In April 2019, Joanne joined Alstom as Project Director for the Melbourne Signalling projects. She coordinates and manages the team delivering the signalling technology that allows trains to pass through level crossings.
“Before Alstom, I’d never worked in the signalling space. I’ve always pushed myself to experience different sectors because I believe an engineer should be well-rounded and upskilled across different areas. I’m enjoying the signalling space; it’s critical and complex - and it’s incredibly satisfying when everything comes together.”
As a Project Director and Mum to five-year-old Issac and 11-year-old Rachel, Joanne’s day is full of variety.
“Most days, I have back-to-back meetings. I’m at a client’s office or on the construction Alliance site. When I need flexibility, my manager understands. I feel really supported. At the end of the day, it’s not about when and where you’re working - it’s about working efficiently. One of the other Project Managers is a mum too and works from home once a week. Everyone is adaptable and we get the job done.”
Joanne is pleased to have found a workplace culture built on respect and equality.
“I’m very well respected by the managers and engineers. Gender isn’t an issue here. I feel like I’m heard, listened to and my opinion is valued.”
A flagbearer for women in engineering
In 2019, Joanne was appointed Chair of Women in Engineering (VIC). From the energy in Joanne’s voice, it’s clear that supporting women in engineering is a true passion.
“I took this role to support and encourage women. I want to provide a voice for us in our industry and a way to motivate each other. We can mentor and empower one another and learn together. Women in Engineering VIC coordinates four events a year on key themes to bring awareness of gender diversity to our industry.”
Read on as Joanne imparts some words of her advice she has learned over the years:
- Focus on your path
“Never get disheartened. You’re equal in skill and knowledge to your male counterparts. You have done exactly the same to where you are as a graduate engineer. Embrace your confidence and set your mind to what you want to achieve.”
- Know we’re stronger together
“There are networks of supportive people to help you along your path. Embrace a mentor to lead you in the direction of your aspirations. As a strong network, we can get the word out there - the engineering industry is stronger with women.”
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About the author
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