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Profiling Sydney’s Female Engineers – Profile 1: Nina Kilpinen

Written by Tina Murphy, Consultant, Aerotek Sydney

I have been working in the Civil Industry for a little under two years (albeit on the periphery as a Recruitment Consultant) and I love everything about it. I love to understand the projects that are underway and coming up, the challenges faced on each project and how everyone in the teams of these projects overcome such challenges to deliver something truly spectacular.

During this time I have heard a lot about the drive for diversity and how to encourage more women in to the Engineering field. It was with this in mind that I decided to try and do my bit, and showcase the talented females that are an integral part of delivering world class projects.

With that in mind, I am launching a blog series called “Profiling Sydney's Female Engineers". This will be a monthly blog where women from all aspects of the Engineering field have volunteered to discuss their experiences within the industry. I have had the opportunity to attend a number of Women in Engineering Australia events, which is where I have met a number of the people who will be profiled. So far it has been an exciting journey, meeting with women who want to discuss their career, motivations and challenges. I am proud to be able to present this to the industry, thankful to those who have participated and excited to hear your feedback. I also hope more people will be open to participating.

Profile 1 – Nina Kilpinen
I was first introduced to Nina whilst attending the Social Entrepreneurship seminar hosted by Women in Engineering Australia.

I found her story intriguing, and hearing more about her experience, and the passion she has for engineering and driving diversity, inspired me to reach out to learn more about her motivations about driving diversity not just in her own business but across the industry as a whole.

With over twenty years working in the Engineering field, Nina has built a reputation not only as an expert Project Manager but also a successful engineer and leader within high profile and complex transport projects including; Sydney City Centre Access strategy projects, WestConnex enabling works, Great Western Highway upgrade projects and many more.

To help drive diversity across the industry Nina is now the Managing Director of an innovative engineering consultancy called Seed Engineering. I reached out to Nina to ask what motivated her to become an Engineer and how her career has evolved and developed over her time in the industry.

What drew you to the Engineering field? Why did you choose to work within Engineering?

I love complexity and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I find complexity even more exciting, when you can’t find the right piece of the puzzle or you don’t actually know which piece of the puzzle, you are looking for… I love working on complex infrastructure projects and working with large teams of people. Building a high performance, multi-disciplinary project team, is the ultimate puzzle – it’s like playing human Tetris.

What is your current position and how long have you been in this position? Please give a brief overview of your responsibilities.

I am the Managing Director of Seed Engineering, founded in 2015. We are a small engineering consulting firm, with 8 permanent employees and a number of independent associates. We work in the development and delivery phases of large multi-modal transport projects and I typically work in senior project management roles, on major infrastructure projects.

Please give a brief overview of your career journey to date.

I feel like a moth to a flame, with my engineering career… At the start of my career, I was able to fast-track my way up the corporate ladder. By my late-20s, I was frustrated with my potential career pathways in engineering and I started to build (what was to become) a very successful retail company. When my retail business started to boom, I left engineering; and I quit honestly never intending to return… By my mid-30’s, my retail business changed its structure and I decided to try my hand at engineering again (the use-it, or lose-it theory). I stepped seamlessly back into consulting engineering work for major transport projects and it was like I had never missed a beat. Four years later, I founded Seed Engineering, with the intention to create a technology-driven consulting engineering firm; and to create an environment where I would actually want to work in the longer term. The engineering industry needs dramatic change, to accommodate senior female engineers and more flexible work practices. I am now in my 40s and I’ll be interested to see just where the next chapter of my career will take me. It is true that you need to be the change, that you want to see.

What high profile projects have your worked on that have shaped your career?

Early in my career, I was lucky enough to get some ‘big ticket’ projects on my CV. My early projects included planning work for the M7 Motorway, design development for the North-West Transitway and traffic management for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. I have since worked on over 17 major road and motorway projects in Sydney and I’m the first to admit, that I’ve had some amazing successes and some epic fails. But, as my favourite client says, the common thread across my favourite projects is that the best projects are “all about the people”. The world I operate in is a very small circle and I always tend to gravitate towards projects where I get to work with the best people.

What are the challenges you have had to overcome to get to where you are now?

One of my colleagues once told me that I have a strong internal compass and I definitely love to steer my own ship. I don’t think I have chosen an easy career path as a female engineer working in infrastructure, but nonetheless, it has always been my choice. I am very lucky to be where I am, to live in Australia and to have been given these opportunities, which I have.

Have you had any key mentors/influencers who have helped shape your career, if so how did they help shape your career?

I would say I’ve had at least six hugely influential mentors in my engineering career. Interestingly, they are all from quite different backgrounds and I’ve met them at various stages of my career. I would consider all of them to be personal friends. My mentors bring everything from support, to career advice, to challenging and fierce debates! I am always willing to learn and it is great to be around seasoned professionals, who are willing to share their experiences.

If you could, what would you change about the industry?

I am passionate about increasing the opportunities for women in the engineering and construction industries. I am looking forward to the day when we see start to see mega-transport infrastructure projects in Sydney, led by female engineers. It is not enough to simply have women in token roles, on major infrastructure projects.

How do you think the drive for diversity is going? What does the push for diversity mean and has it been successful?

I have never had a female engineer as my manager, in my 20+ year engineering career. Statistics prove the participation of women in the construction industry is decreasing and the gender pay gap remains significant. ‘The Oracle’ on this subject is Natalie Galea, who is currently completing her PhD at UNSW. Natalie’s research is confronting, fascinating and better yet, scientifically based – well worth a read to anyone who wants to argue the toss with me, and tell me that we are doing OK, in terms of diversity in the construction and engineering industries!

Knowing what you know now, if you were to go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Build, trust and engage frequently with your mentors – if in doubt, run it by one of your mentors, first.

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an architect. My Dad was a bricklayer and when I was in high school, he sometimes employed me as laborer on his residential building sites. One school holidays, when I was about 16 years old, I was working on a site with a group of young female and male laborers. My Dad encouraged me to spend time with them and find out more about what they did… it turns out that they were all architecture graduates, who couldn’t find work! I think my Dad did a pretty sly sales job at convincing me that I should be an engineer, rather than an architect.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I am a mad keen snow sports enthusiast. I am from a family of great skiers and I have competed at a National level; my three children are now following in my footsteps. I spend almost every weekend over winter skiing and try to squeeze in another few weeks overseas, each year.

If you would like to participate or know someone that does, please reach out via LinkedIn.