GMW engineers paving the way for women

Friday 18 June, 2021

GMW female engineersFiona Nioa and Jacqui Kelly have been in the engineering game for more than 20 years.

Yet, the Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) asset planning managers continue to learn something new every day.

That’s the beauty of engineering, they say. Traditionally a male-dominated career, there has been an upswing of women entering the industry and Fiona and Jacqui couldn’t be happier.

When Jacqui graduated, she was one of about 10 women among 200 men.

The ratio of female to male engineers when Fiona joined GMW in 2001 was roughly 1:8. That figure is more like 1:3 now.

Wednesday, June 23, is International Women in Engineering Day, which celebrates the work and achievements of women engineers around the globe.

While Fiona and Jacqui grew up on different sides of the world, both ended up at GMW where they make up a total of nine female engineers.

“I love my job. Engineering opens up a variety in work and potential opportunities and I am learning something new every day,” Fiona said.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering (Environmental) and Bachelor of Science (majoring in Environmental Science), Fiona joined GMW as a graduate engineer in the assets team, designing and project managing new irrigation and drainage assets.

The Mooroopna resident has worked in many roles over the years, and after a three-year stint as an engineer for RPS Aquaterra in Echuca, Fiona returned to GMW in 2016 in the asset planning group.

“My current role as asset planning manager in Water Storage Services is to manage a team of four who maintain/review the operation and maintenance manuals for each storage, create and improve asset data and processes, develop a long-term forward look for projects with required expenditure, and respond to asset management requests/requirements from water storages and the Murray Darling Basin Authority,” she said.

“I love dealing with a variety of people such as farmers, community groups, operations staff, office staff, departmental staff and many consultants.”

Born in London and raised in Ireland, Jacqui graduated with a civil engineering degree and also has a Masters in computer science.

Following a career in civil and IT engineering, working in banks and power companies around the world – most recently as a senior business analyst with Wannon Water - Jacqui moved to Tatura to begin as the GMW Strategy and Services Plan asset planning manager last month.

“I look at the engineering assets of the business and how they’ll serve the customers now and into the future,” she said.

Originally wanting to be an architect, Jacqui got into engineering due to her love of building things and solving problems.

“My Dad never treated me or my sister differently to the boys,” she said. “We were allowed to do whatever we wanted. From an early age, I made my pocket money by helping him put up signs. He was an electrician, so I was used to working around men.”

While the industry has changed, so too has technology - something which both women have had to keep up with. Jacqui has applied her engineering principles to satellite surveying, communications and even the internet.

“There’s more to it than bricks and mortar. It’s also aesthetics and communications, and making it all work,” she said.

As for Fiona, her work has made a real difference on individual farms, as well as the Connections Project, which she had input into during the early stages.

“Now, I am expanding my knowledge on dams assets and improving asset management processes,” she said.

Fiona and Jacqui urged young women around the district to consider a career in engineering. “Just go for it. It’s fun and a very adaptable skill,” Jacqui said.

“Engineering is a great industry and can lead to all sorts of exciting and fulfilling opportunities,” Fiona said.

“Most importantly, women need to support and encourage each other in male-dominated industries. It is important to surround yourself with positive role models and have a support network of strong women.”