By Charndré Emma Kippie
Nikita Budree is a Senior Structural Engineer at AECOM, working in the Durban office. She is passionate about improving the day-to-day lives of communities by delivering great design solutions. Key to this is adopting a multidisciplinary approach to complex projects, which is a particular strength of the infrastructure consulting firm that is AECOM.
AECOM is the world’s trusted infrastructure consulting firm, partnering with clients to solve the world’s most complex challenges and build legacies for generations to come. The consulting firm understands both the urgency of the challenges facing our society and our responsibility to act in an impactful and enduring way. And is leading the change towards a more sustainable and equitable future, partnering with those who want to make a positive difference in the world.
Please tell us a bit about your role and responsibilities as a woman in the Engineering space.
My main role is as a senior structural engineer. I also assist our manager to plan the weekly workload for a team of eight engineers. As an engineer, I design structures using hand calculations and 2D and 3D design programs; I also review designs and drawings. I attend meetings to discuss solutions to problems. as well as attend to project-related queries. As a senior, I enjoy mentoring others. I enjoy helping to organise social events within our team to keep the spirit up. I think this is a ‘motherly’ trait that I bring to the team.
Please could you tell us a little bit about your upbringing, and how you eventually decided that this would be the right career path for you?
I was brought up in the Durban CBD by my parents and younger brother. The four of us shared two bedrooms within a large flat with our extended family. My parents inspired me, as they were always working and trying to improve our lives. This trait stuck with me up until now. They also believed in a balanced life and surrounded themselves with family and friends.
At school, I was fond of Art, Maths and Physics, which was a weird combination. Initially I was interested in studying Architecture. But after some thought and adult advice, I changed my university application to Civil Engineering, knowing that I would specifically be interested in Structural Engineering because of its ties to Architecture.
Why are you so passionate about the work you do and your impact on the upliftment of local communities?
My work day is never the same, so each day I am faced with different challenges, different people, different projects. This is what makes work life exciting and interesting. To add to this, our structures team is passionate about their work. This morale keeps us focused and motivated. We also have a very experienced manager who mentors and cares for each one of us.
At the workplace, our team always mentors each other, which is a form of upliftment. There are many mentorship programmes available to employees. In terms of our community, our company has CSI initiatives that continuously contribute to this community. If we have local projects, we try our best to engage with individuals who take an interest in learning more, and try to share with them our experience and knowledge about our industry to improve their understanding.
What are some of your core values of diversity and inclusivity as a woman in Engineering?
- Think out of the box
- Always voice your opinion or perspective
- Always try to help your peers and share your knowledge
- Don’t doubt yourself, no one is perfect
What advice do you have for young women who aspire to work in your field?
Engineering is a vast and interesting field. You have many opportunities in the office or on-site, or even branching out into engineering-related fields such as project management. So do not view Engineering as a field with limited options. As a female, options/flexibility are always welcome, as our roles as women constantly change as we mature. On projects, you also get to communicate with people from other fields, such as quantity surveyors, project managers, architects and clients; this gives us women plenty of opportunities to make our mark and make a difference.
What 3 tips do you have for implementing solutions in your field?
- Always ask questions, no matter how silly you may think the question is.
- If you get ‘stuck’, then take a break and come back to it
- Read or research the components of your problem as much as possible; you will never know everything there is to know in your industry
What have been the major obstacles in your career and how did you overcome them?
Site visits were initially awkward due to the predominance of men. Eventually I decided to take a stand and greet as many of the staff on-site as possible, so they could realise that us women had to be treated as equals.
When I had my daughter, the challenge of juggling work and family life was challenging. Communication with my husband and my manager has been key to balancing these two responsibilities.
What major milestones have you achieved in your career thus far?
- Achieving Professional Registration in 2015.
- Being considered for and partaking in various mentorship programmes within the company, which motivate me to do better.
Have you read any important/life-changing books?
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is a fascinating story which provides a different perspective. It inspires us to also look at life or situations with a more open-minded nature.
What special message do you have for South Africans celebrating Madiba Month?
Embrace the forgiving nature of Madiba. In lockdown situations, it is easy to feel demotivated, but reflect on the ‘lockdown’ time that Madiba endured in prison, and find inspiration in what he did during that time by reading, learning and embracing your hobbies.
*Interested in discovering more inspiring stores about Top Women? Check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.