Holding her own as a female engineer
As any woman in engineering would know, being female in a male-dominated industry has its challenges. Nadia Arkoudis (BCivEng, 1999) has successfully navigated her way through this tough work environment with determination and grace. She now holds the position of Manager of Transport Planned Disruptions at VicRoads. Additionally, she takes pride in lifting women through cultural change in what she considers a fairly traditional organisation.
In her managerial role, Nadia coordinates major infrastructure works on Melbourne’s arterial road network, with an aim to minimise impact on the community. “Because I’d walked into a new business area, I first needed to set up a team, and establish processes and workflows. I’ve also had to develop strong stakeholder relationships,” she explains. “Together we strive to ensure customers can make informed decisions around their journey.”
Early in her career, Nadia began to feel a growing sense of isolation. “Most of the time, I was the only woman engineer on a construction site. Or maybe there’d be five of us out of 100 engineers on larger projects,” she shares. “I figured that formalising a network at VicRoads would help break down barriers for women, including myself, who were experiencing challenges in the workplace.”
With the support of her Executive Director, Nadia initiated Women Networking @ VicRoads. “I put together a team of passionate and like-minded volunteers eager to empower not only women in the organisation, but male colleagues, too,” she says. The group runs events and information forums for both women and men. Members have also pushed for flexible work arrangements for all. And, with the help of their Male Champions of Change, they’ve worked to promote women in leadership roles.
Having benefited from mentors herself, Nadia now serves as a Monash University alumni mentor. “Don’t limit yourself to what you learn at uni. Challenge yourself to go out and explore all the opportunities,” she advises. “To move up, you need to get out of your comfort zone. For example, I’d always admired people who could tell a story to capture an audience. I never imagined that, as someone who liked to sit back and listen, I too would eventually gain the skills to lead and speak in forums.”
Nadia also stresses the value of networking. She now knows that doing great work is not enough for a successful career. “Meet people to build your network and establish your brand – who you are and what you stand for,” she recommends. “Expand your knowledge as you learn from the people around you. And share what you’ve learned to help others be the best they can be.”
As with so many professionals, Nadia struggles to find the right work-life balance. “Demanding workloads with long hours always present a challenge, especially if you’re ambitious,” she acknowledges. “It’s so easy to forget to make time for family, friends, hobbies and sports. That’s why I schedule time off in my calendar – the same way I’d schedule a meeting – and then stick to it.”
Looking to the future, Nadia reveals, “VicRoads has done a lot with smart roads and intelligent transport systems. Devices have been placed along our road network for greater safety, efficiency and environmental sustainability. We’ve now got electronic variable signs and signals to regulate traffic flow and impact.” Such advances have set the scene for the new era of driverless vehicles, and Nadia can’t wait to be a part of that.