Roma Agrawal: 'I stand out. People remember me'

35 WOMEN UNDER 35: WHERE ARE THEY NOW? She's one of the few female structural engineers behind the Shard. One year on from appearing on our cover, Roma Agrawal shares her tips to the top.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 03 Jul 2015

What have you been up to since you appeared in our 35 Women Under 35 list?

It’s been a rather crazy and amazing year. I’ve had some press coverage about my work promoting engineering and technical careers with students, written some articles, spoken at the Houses of Parliament about diversity, met inspiration people and even did a photoshoot for M&S for their Leading Ladies campaign! And of course I’ve been doing some great engineering projects at WSP as well.

Which businesswoman do you most admire and why?

Possibly an obvious choice but I am a fan of Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve read Lean In and could relate very strongly to a number of things she spoke about, and how women can work to succeed and achieve their ambitions. I like that she suggests simple, practical things we can do to get ahead.

Do you have (or have you had) a mentor? If so, who and why?

I do have mentors, both formal and informal. I speak to my seniors in the business every so often and discuss my career, and I also have an external mentor. My husband and I also mentor each other, we both work in different industries and it's very useful to have different perspectives. I find it very helpful because my mentors force me to reflect on what I’ve been doing, consider if these activities are moving me towards my goals, and consider my strengths and weaknesses pragmatically.

What's been your biggest business setback/mistake?

I don’t know if it’s a mistake as such, but I wish I had brought a little more structure in my career plans earlier. I work well with goals and objectives (not everyone does!) but only really realised this in the last two to three years. Since then I’ve been making more of an effort to think about what it really is that I want to achieve. I haven’t really thought about my career until recently.

What are your top tips for negotiating a pay rise?

Ask! Not asking is probably the biggest mistake we make as women. It’s good to be prepared with a list of what you’ve achieved in the past year, why this is important to the business and show your commitment to your company.

How do you juggle the work/life balance? Any advice?

I am very organised and have a very detailed calendar. That way I know which evenings I need for work-related events and which evenings are free for my social life. I try and make sure that I have two evenings to myself each week and time on the weekends to decompress. I do tend to work on my next school presentation or speech during the weekend but I love speaking to students so I don’t mind some weekend work!

What's your take on boardroom quotas?

I’m personally not in favour of quotas, but perhaps targets would work well instead. If we set targets for the mix of people we want to consider for a board, it might make us more conscious about who we are interviewing for the role and encourage people who would be great for the job but might not put themselves forward. From there, do it on merit.

What nuggets of advice would you give to young women starting out on their careers?

I’d say do exactly what you want with confidence, and don’t pay any attention to unhelpful stereotypes. It’s ok to be scared and nervous about new projects, I still feel that way, as long as we don’t let that fear stop us from moving forward.

As a high-flying businesswoman, have you ever faced discrimination in your industry?

Possibly only positive discrimination! As a woman working in a very male-dominated industry, I stand out, and people remember me. Since I’m different, people are interested in my story and my work on The Shard and, as a result, I’ve had my fair share of media coverage. Yes, working on site can be challenging, but again it comes down to confidence and showing people you’re good at your job, then you will gain and maintain respect.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am really enjoying both aspects of my role at WSP: the technical engineering side; and the industry and student engagement side. I can see myself continuing to do both in five years’ time, and perhaps getting more involved with government to try and influence positive change in the industry from the top.

Roma Agrawal appeared in last year's 35 Women Under 35. Click here to read this year's list.

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