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Advice for women in transport and the importance of being authentic

Author: Isabel Coman, Project Director

Isabel Coman is project director for Skanska Costain Strabag joint venture. Isabel is a chartered civil engineer, specialising in railway infrastructure and leading complex major projects. She has 22 years’ experience in the industry, is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and is a Board Director for High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL). Isabel is passionate about improving our industry’s diversity and advancing women in transport.

In this blog, she shares her advice for women in transport and discusses the importance of being authentic.


About me and my career

My career began more than 20 years ago and, bar two six-month periods of maternity leave, I have spent my whole working life working for contractors delivering transport infrastructure in the UK.

I started out as a site engineer on the A1/M1 Link Road in Leeds and have worked on some of the largest rail projects in Europe including Channel Tunnel Rail Link and Crossrail.  I have been leading major projects and programmes of work for over 10 years and am currently project director for Skanska Costain Strabag (SCS) Joint Venture heading up an international team on High Speed 2 Main Works Contracts S1 and S2.

The opportunities and challenges of leading a major programme of work such as HS2

In my current role I have been able to apply the breadth and depth of my previous experience in establishing the team of over 400 from eight different organisations and creating a collaborative culture, to design and plan for the 26km of underground infrastructure for the new HS2 railway line from Euston to West Ruislip.

This team has not only had to face the technical challenges of the scheme, but those arising from the political, legacy and affordability complexities that are inextricably intertwined.

It is extremely exciting to be part of a major programme of work such as HS2, which has set out to achieve a new standard in infrastructure delivery.  This has given us the space to create a culture and environment that enables people to come to work and be at their best, recognising and utilising the full capabilities of a diverse team.  We have been able embrace change, look for innovation and opportunity in every challenge and perhaps most importantly, ensure that we continue to learn from the past in our preparation for the future.

Developing high-performing, complex and diverse teams to address the major infrastructure challenges faced by the UK is the most exciting part of what I do.

Advice for women in the industry

The industry has historically been male-dominated and when I first started in the sector in 1996 I did not fit the “typical” description of a person working within engineering and construction.  Initially, I certainly modified myself to try and fit in better and then, in later years, I put enormous onus on proving myself technically, including becoming at the time a relatively young Fellow of the ICE.

However, it has become more and more evident to me as I have become more senior, with an increasingly wide sphere of influence, that it is exceptionally important that we strive to be our genuine selves in whatever role or stage of our career we are in, and maintain integrity in that.

I believe being true to myself and maintaining my authenticity, particularly in leadership roles, has brought me great career success but also enormous enjoyment and pride in what I and the amazing teams I have been part of have achieved.

The future of transport

I feel like we are on the cusp of a significant change in terms of making step changes in diversity within our sector, and I really want to play my part in that.  The future of transport development is always exciting, both from the value it brings to society but also from the opportunity it provides to be creative and innovative about the teams we select, the infrastructure we design and build and the legacy that we leave behind.

This article was originally published by Women In Transport.