Women in Engineering and Science – Ramona Donnelly

Originally from Romania, Ramona first came to the UK as part of an ERASMUS exchange university project in her second year at the University of Transilvania in Romania.

The exchange programme was meant to be for one semester, but after a semester of change, learning and development, she applied for an extension, got a scholarship from Buckinghamshire Chiltern University College and completed her education in the UK.

So, from Romania to the UK, Zumba to the BBA, read on to find out what inspires Ramona and why she believes that women can be drivers in the field of engineering and STEM.

Why did you go into engineering?

Looking back on my life, I don’t recall a specific moment when I decided to become an engineer- it was more like engineering found me.

However, I strongly believe that my love for practical solutions, for resolving problems started from an early age. Spending time with my father in his garage and watching him repair the car always interested and intrigued, similarly, having my grandfather helping me with some of my coursework at university and preparing design mock up models on the lathe, again was fascinating to me.

During university, I learnt to weld and that gave me a sense of empowerment- I thought, ‘this is great, I want to do more of it’!

I suppose, the love for the technical role increased greatly during university when the majority of the subjects I studied were all based on engineering subjects (strength of materials, math, chemistry, mechanics, electromagnetics etc). However, throughout my life, the choices I made from school, college and then universities have all lead me slowly into engineering roles.

How did you progress your career choice?

My first role in the technical field was as a technical product assessor for Trada Technologies, and after a number of years working with them, the opportunity to work for the BBA came up. I started working at the BBA as a Project Manager in the Materials Department and that as they say is history.

After a year as Project Manager, I became a Team Managers in the Construction Products section, then Change Programme Manager. This role meant that I looked after a large number of projects intended to develop and improve services and areas of work at the BBA.

Following on from this, I become Team Manager for the Civil and Highways team, in the Engineering department. This gave me the opportunity to learn about the civil product types such a drainage systems and SuDS (sustainable drainage systems) as well as defining more highways products based on Highways requirements and design codes. After 1 ½ years, during which I went on maternity leave, an opportunity arose for a new role as Operations Manager of the Engineering department. I applied for it as I was (and am) interested in the commercial side of the certification process and I was lucky enough to be offered this chance. Being consistently rewarded and promoted at the BBA motivated me to return to work after 3.5 months off to start this new, challenging and exciting role.

What inspires you about your career choice?

My inspiration comes from delivering great service to our clients, it comes from aspiring to be a successful woman in a field that used to be dominated by men.

I am also inspired by the stories of women coming on board and working in the most unlikely of environments – being project managers for railways, or working in the construction of major tunnels etc. They do all this whilst being mums and running their homes, these are my inspiration.

Finally, I have a strong passion to go as far as I can in my career and I would love to be a role model for other women both in and out of the BBA.

What challenges that you have met and overcome along the way?

When it comes to challenges- there have been many!

From having to learn completely new product areas, learning to use testing equipment and developing test methods and procedures where standardised ones did not function, to working to deliver on extremely tight deadline that require overtime, and having client meetings where I was ignored from the conversation because I’m a woman.

Some other challenges include having to train older male colleagues who maybe felt uncomfortable being trained by someone younger.

The challenges were not only on the technical side but also in dealing and managing people and personalities, all which has helped me develop myself and mould my business experience.

Why does engineering interests you?

Engineering excites me for many reasons, because I enjoy finding out how things are made, analysing buildings from the construction point of view, and I’m also always curious about how new products are developed.

It makes me proud each time I see a product bearing the BBA’s logo on it, recently I saw an ongoing refurbishment at the train station in Oxford, using BBA Certified products. It makes me proud to know that my job alongside my colleagues, help manufacturers demonstrate the quality of their products and helps them achieve growth in the market.

Why did you choose to work for the BBA?

The BBA is a highly reputable certification body in the UK covering Certification, Inspection and Testing of construction product across the industry. I wanted to join them to help me expand my knowledge in other construction engineering product areas besides timber engineering.

Since joining the BBA, I’ve worked with products such as non-structural cementitious panels, paints, floor linings to underground pipes, symphonic systems to bridge deck waterproofing, manhole cover products. The list is extensive and remains as challenging as it was on the first day.

What does your role at the BBA entails?

My current role as Operations Manager of the Engineering involves managing the day to day operations of this department. I currently have three teams specialising in three major areas (Structural Roof- Components- Cementitious and Ancillaries, Structural Building Systems and Claddings and Civils and Highways). In my current role I oversee the progress of projects within budget and timescales, the performance of the teams in line with the company’s objectives and business plans. I support the Technical Director in providing technical support/ mentoring in areas of my own expertise in order to assist the delivery of Certificates in a timely manner. In addition to this, I encourage my Team Managers and support them in managing their teams effectively ensuring positive energy is maintained along the way.

How does the BBA enable you to keep your knowledge fresh and up to date?

The BBA is very open in supporting employees with their personal development, from ensuring professional membership with specific institutions to attendance at product and/or area specific training courses, CPDs and technical knowledge information centres.

How have you found working for the BBA – how encompassing it is of women in roles such as yours?

The BBA has come a long way since I joined. More women are coming on board, and the BBA has a female CEO. That in itself is inspiring and exciting and was one of the reasons that made me join this organisation- because it shows that any women can achieve the career they aspire to.

Should more young girls consider a career in engineering?

BBA Women in Engineering and Science

BBA Women in Engineering and Science

Definitely more young girls should consider careers in engineering, but don’t think it’s is easy. A great responsibility comes with being an engineer regardless of the field of expertise. The products that you work with- whether design/ develop/ construct or assess, will eventually become products on which people’s lives depend on.

Having said that, it’s extremely exciting, challenging and provides extreme job satisfaction.

What can engineering offer these women?

In short, all of the above. With career progression comes recognition- in the form of being recognised worldwide, be it as a chartered engineer or for being one of the engineers involved in the design of a famous landmark such as Dubai’s Burj Al Arab. The role of an engineer comes with pressure to deliver, but the rewards and personal satisfaction, in my view, make it worthwhile.

What one or two things could be changed (in school, university, the work place etc) to encourage more girls/women into engineering?

If there is a more hands on approach/ practical side of engineering, this could help young students (male and female) see the exciting part of engineering.

Young minds need to be excited by what they can do and achieve and what that would mean for the world in practice. If schools could do that, students would learn to love engineering.

What have you done at the BBA that you’re most proud of

I am very proud of my career at the BBA as a whole.

Having been with the BBA for just over four years, I have expanded my knowledge greatly. All the roles I have had, opened my eyes to the business side and having been involved in varied projects which have had a positive impact on the company has been truly rewarding.

What you love most about your job

I love the challenges- they keep me awake at night on many occasions, but the job would be boring if it wasn’t for the challenges. I love being able to demonstrate my capability and how my input in various projects can help establish/ improve and deliver the work we do.

How important do you think INWED is?

I think it’s a great opportunity to recognise women engineers and scientists and their achievements, unfortunately I still don’t believe it is advertised and marketed sufficiently for women to be aware of this.

Do you think women engineers bring anything specific to their roles?

Celebrating being a woman in engineering and Science

Definitely- I think women bring a lot of determination and focus, because they work with the aim to deliver. Women can be very detail orientated and so will always find solution with a different perspective from men.

Away from work, what do you do?

I am a competitive person, so I love relaxing by doing Zumba and playing badminton. I also enjoy going ballroom dancing although lately this has not been easy to do. I also love cooking and watching cooking shows and events.