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“Girls can be engineers, and there’s nothing wrong with that” : WME’s senior structural engineer Vanja Dimitrijevic.

by  Disha Dadlani for Construction Week

How often do you meet an all-women team of structural engineers working on projects of prominence? “Not very often, especially in the field of structural engineering,” says Vanja Dimitrijevic, senior structural engineer at multi-disciplinary consultancy WME, on the latest episode of the Construction Week Viewpoint podcast series.

While we intend to leave gender-specific references out of our podcast in an attempt to hone a more neutral approach, it is worth mentioning that diversity in engineering and construction is a topic that we at Construction Week choose to amplify, every chance we get and through various platforms. 

For last week’s episode, we discussed the topic through a legal lens, with specific focus on the projects and construction sector. For the latest episode, we sit down with Dimitrijevic to discuss diversity and inclusion in the engineering sector, work on the UAE Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, and more. 

“While a lot has been done and is being done to chip away the glass ceiling and shatter stereotypes, there’s still a long way to go; Dimitrijevic agrees. “The conversation about gender inclusion and diversity is taking a negative route wherein women are presented as a minority. We need to start approaching the subject from a positive perspective. What’s happening is that some companies are incorporating gender diversity and inclusion at the workplace as a result of a certain pressure to reach numbers. This does not solve the problem in its essence. If we don’t change this perspective, I’m afraid we will be hiring women and giving them opportunities within the industry only for the sake of doing so, because it’s forced upon. We need to be careful about this.”

WME is taking major strides to embed diversity – ethnic and gender-specific – across the company’s fabric. 

Dimitrijevic says: “WME signed a pledge towards supporting Women’s Empowerment Principles, which is a United Nations initiative, focusing on gender equality on all levels.

We also had at an internship programme at WME, where boys and girls were welcome to work and contribute to the team and explore engineering. The company also carried out a campaign across Dubai schools to encourage students to pick engineering as a career. Diversity and inclusion must start at an early age and it should begin with education and awareness.”

WME has provided building services and engineering support for the UAE Pavilion in addition to Luxembourg and Austria Pavilions at the Expo 2020 Dubai. Commenting on the complexities of the project, which has been designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, Dimitrijevic says: “Working on the UAE Pavilion was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences as a structural engineer. The project is very complicated, although it may not seem like it when you view it from outside. 

Within the single building, we have concrete and steel structures and elements, including two bridges – steel and concrete, spanning 50m in length; within the building is a steel structure dome or auditorium, which in itself is a mini project within a project.”

Delving into the intricacies of the project, she adds that the project receives its ‘falcon in flight’ design from the roof, which is a steel structure, comprising 28 removable wings, which when closed, symbolise a bedouin tent design, both of which are representative of the UAE culture. 

As a concluding note, Dimitrijevic goes back to the topic of diversity and inclusion and says: “We need to stop victimising the minorities. Let’s address the positive examples about women in construction and engineering instead. Girls can be engineers and there’s nothing wrong with that!”