Julie Colbert, 23, is a site engineer for Balfour Beatty Construction Northern. She graduated in 2005 with a degree in construction management from the University of Northumbria.
What’s your background?
I’ve always been interested in building services, despite it being a male-dominated industry. I’ve never fancied spending my working life exclusively in an office, and there’s something really special about seeing a building come together and knowing you’ve been part of making it happen.
How did you handle your job hunt?
In the third year of my four-year sandwich degree, I did a placement with Balfour Beatty, which confirmed that this was the industry for me. Getting that placement wasn’t hard at all. In fact, the offer came through so quickly that I didn’t apply anywhere else. When it came to getting a job upon graduation, I applied to a number of employers by responding to advertised posts. I was also offered the opportunity of returning to Balfour Beatty, which having spent a fantastic placement with them, I accepted.
Did you face any barriers?
If anything, I think being a woman helped me get a job. I get the impression that many companies – certainly the larger ones – genuinely want to redress the gender balance. That said, it soon became obvious when I was attending interviews that sexism still exists in some workplaces, especially when one employer asked me how I would deal with it if it happened to me. I was quite surprised by the question and I think that if I had responded by saying it would bother me, then it would perhaps have gone against my application. That made me feel that discrimination may have been an issue in that company which – if it came down to it – would have affected my decision about taking a job there.
Any tips for fellow graduates?
I thought I might come across some discrimination once I got started in my job, but I’ve found that hasn’t been the case at Balfour Beatty. With a couple of sub-contractors, I’ve got the feeling that they’re a bit uncomfortable with me being female, but only because they’re not used to it. So, my advice would be not to worry about it. In fact, in some respects, I think it makes your job easier. If I’m talking to someone on site, for example, I generally seem to build a relationship with them quite quickly where as they perceive the men as being more confrontational. My other advice would be to treat people how you want to be treated, which helps build a culture of respect. Also remember that many companies have very clear policies about not allowing discrimination.