Building Awareness For Women in Stem | A Q&A with Structural Engineer Roma Agrawal

22 June 2018

Known for her key role in the design of The Shard, Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer who has left an indelible mark on London’s skyline. Inspiring others to take the lead in their industries and pursue their dreams, her enthralling keynote and business speeches have sparked a surge of interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with their unique message - to drive accessibility to underrepresented groups and encourage women to reach the heights of these fields.

Hi Roma. You've had to overcome many obstacles to reach this point in your career - how did you find the motivation to stick at it?

I love what I do and chose to ignore the people that thought I couldn't succeed in a 'man's world'. The construction and engineering industry is an exciting and rewarding place to work and I would recommend it to everyone.

Tell us - what more can be done to encourage girls to take up and carry on with STEM subjects through to their professional life?

Build lots of awareness! There are outdated and unhelpful stereotypes which put off girls (and boys) from considering STEM careers and the key is to challenge these - through promoting role models, more shows about science and engineering on the telly, and doing work with schools and parents.

What are you key aims when addressing an audience as a speaker?

My aims are to firstly inspire, and secondly to make people think. If even a few members of my audiences leave with questions such as 'I wonder what my home is made from' or 'I never realised how complicated building a new tunnel could be' then I'm happy. I would also love people to leave with an action in mind - that might be to tell their son or niece or sister about how exciting science and engineering can be, or with a resolution to change their workplace culture to be more accommodating to a range of people's needs.

Why are the buildings and structures that shape the world we inhabit so important?

We spend the large majority of our lives inside buildings and travelling to and from them, and it's imperative that the environment in which we exist is relaxing, inspiring, and safe. Engineering is about people - ultimately, all the work we do is to make our lives easier and better in some way.

What is your favourite building and what would be your dream project to work on?

I love The Shard (I may be biased!). It is an amazing addition to London's skyline, it's sensitive and beautiful and was a great experience to be part of the team that delivered the tower.

I would love to go back in time and work on a historical structure like the Houses of Parliament. It is such a stunning project, next to the river and very large, and I am fascinated by how it was designed and built without the technology we have today.

Your book "BUILT: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures", was realeased earlier this year. What inspired you to write this, and how did you go about researching it?

Writing BUILT was my opportunity to leave people with a much more in-depth look at engineering and science than I can offer in an hour's talk. My aim is to unravel the amazing secrets that all the structures around us hold - for example I explain why the Gherkin has the diamonds around its perimeter, how the material used to build the Pantheon came to be, and why skyscrapers couldn't exist without a special type of spring that led to lifts being manufactured on a large scale.

Roma played a key role in the design of The Shard, London's tallest landmark

In 2017, your film on Brunel's box tunnel came out on The One Show and your documentary Abandoned Engineering was broadcast. Can you tell us a bit about this?

I've loved doing more television work - I recently was a guest judge on the very successful Legomasters and I also presented some films for the BBC and Discovery. Television gives me a whole new platform to reach thousands of people worldwide and show them the wonders of engineering. I very much enjoy filming days - it's a totally different experience and set of skills than my everyday work!

You recently spent time in the USA as part of the Secretary of States IVLP - which was 3 weeks with women from 19 countries touring the United States. How did you find this experience? What did you learn?

This was one of the most inspiring trips I've ever been on! Meeting all these women from countries all over the world filled me with joy and hope for our future - every one of them is making an impact in their community and empowering girls and women. It made me feel optimistic for our future, and reinforced my belief in how people from different backgrounds and cultures can come together to make magic.

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