Planning for the unexpected

Northrop principals, Lilian Lee and Karlie Collis talk engineering.

Structural engineers Lilian Lee and Karlie Collis believe women bring a wide range of skills to the field of engineering. And they should know; they are principals and owners at Northrop.
The two engineers have individually overcome personal challenges along their journeys to career success. Karlie, from Northrop in Newcastle, became a single parent and says Northrop’s willingness to adapt to her flexible working requirements was crucial to her success. Meeting challenges head-on is also advice she gives to other female engineers.
“Plan for the unexpected; always keep some skin in the game, as it was critical to me being able to pick up and carry on when my life changed,” she said. “Have the confidence to ask questions and focus on business skills to build your confidence.”
Lilian, who came from a non-English-speaking background and works in the Sydney office, suggests women engineers should have faith in their own abilities and ask for assistance if necessary.
“Don’t be scared. It might be a male-dominant industry, but that’s not to say we can’t do things just as well, if not better!” she says. “Be independent, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if need be, also, find a way to balance your life and work.”
Women engineers offer a different range of skills to their male counterparts, according to Lilian.
“Women are good relationship builders and have good self-management skills,” she believes. “These skills could help to understand clients’ needs and manage projects better.”
Karlie agrees and says women bring their personal skills to engineering - and that’s a good thing.
“Engineering is all about communication, while business building is all about personal relationships. We can often disarm people with egos,” she explains. “Women can also bring a different perspective to life from our often different personal situation. Those perspectives can help in removing obstacles for future women in engineering.”
While Karlie and Lilian made structural engineering their careers, they came to the discipline from different backgrounds. Karlie says the reason she became an engineer is because her father wouldn’t let her become a plumber. On the other hand, Lilian had no idea what she wanted to do when she left school.
“My parents suggested engineering, as they told me that people will always need a roof over their heads, so I’d always be in a job,” she explains. “I’m so glad I listened. The pay-off is being able to show my son the buildings I have designed – it is very rewarding.”
Lilian says her career highlights have involved major projects in Sydney and Hong Kong where she held twin roles of structural project manager and lead structural design engineer. Karlie reveals the high points of her career have been focused in the modular space, which she says have been “exceedingly rewarding”. 

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