Sarah Haskmann works as an engineer on utility-scale solar projects in Queensland. She has worked on projects where she was the only women working on a project to more recently when she described working on a project with "a near parity split of women working in the field." We asked Sarah to tell us a little about what what she does and what advice she has for other women.
Until recently, I worked for the University of Queensland (as professional staff, not an academic), where I carried out a wide variety of projects on behalf of the university. These projects were as big as a 64 MW solar farm build, or as small as an electric vehicle charging station, or as cutting edge as demand response initiatives (since the university is a wholesale electricity market customer) and local utility-scale energy storage. I now work for SMEC on the AAPowerLink Project, which is the world's largest solar farm, battery and undersea cable.
I sent myself back to uni to study engineering (I already held a Bachelor of Arts in humanities) after I saw a local uni advertising an engineering degree in renewable energy. After I graduated, my first job involved building a 110 MW solar farm as part of the EPC contractor team. It was an incredible experience as a graduate engineer and as my first construction job in a remote location.
I love that what I am doing is going to make a difference, and is the absolute right thing to do in our current situation. As for my job specifically, I love that I get to work on such a variety of projects that are really demonstrating sustainability and clean energy leadership.
Women in engineering are still woefully under-represented, and even rarer on construction sites. It can be lonely on a social level at times, but also there are still a lot of biases (unconscious or not) that exist when interacting, referring or deferring to women in technical roles. Also just studying engineering is a four-year-long boys club before you even get into the workforce.
I think there are a lot of women in the admin, commercial, legal and policy side of the industry but few in the technical/construction side. Like many other industries, visibility of possible pathways that they can pursue is a big start. Also construction/engineering needs to work on becoming more women-friendly (offer more work flexibility for care givers, have rosters to help support families, deal with dinosaur biases, etc).
For those that might be thinking that you have to be a whizz at maths to be an engineer… this is far from the truth. There is this huge preconception that high school maths proficiency or even maths interest is the gate keeper to engineering. I never studied maths in years 11/12 and I went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts (majors in Sociology and Ethical Theory). You can learn the basic maths to get the degree, and go on to be a great engineer due to the multitude of other experiences that one can bring to the profession. As for renewables? Who doesn’t want to build awesome things like solar and wind farms?!