Talking courage with a Civil Engineer

(~3 minute read)

Kristen HowardKristen Howard is a Civil Engineer with more than 15 years of experience in the utility, energy, transport and urban development sectors. She is a Principal Engineer at AECOM, shaping the future of Melbourne’s public transport network as the Metro Tunnel Rail Infrastructure Alliance (RIA) Civil Design Lead. Kristen is passionate about mentoring the next generation of engineers and making opportunities in STEMM more accessible for young women. She will soon depart for Antarctica, along with the 79 other women who form part of Homeward Bound’s third cohort. This expedition will be the culmination of their year-long women in STEMM leadership journey.

Join us as Kristen shares that it is more important to embrace courage than comfort.

How would you describe workplace courage?

Being in a leadership position means being visible within your workplace. Being visible includes a level of vulnerability – both personally and professionally.

It is a courageous person that is willing to lead by example by being both visible and vulnerable.

This includes admitting when you make a mistake, don’t know something, or being willing to ask the question – the one that everyone in the room is thinking but not courageous enough to ask.

What does courage look like in your workplace?

Safety is of the utmost importance in my day to day work – whether designing infrastructure or visiting construction sites. We have an abundance of training, procedures, forms, risk management workshops, etc. to create a safety first culture. However, it is up to the individual – from the first-year engineer to the CEO – to put this into practice, to feel empowered and have the courage to identify and immediately report unsafe behaviours and activities. This may mean (up to and including) calling for all work to stop on a construction site. This is no small feat, particularly when you are a 5-foot-tall female engineer working in a male dominated profession!

Please describe 1-2 examples in which you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who/what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome?  

I’ve been the quiet achiever that has been more than happy to put my head down and get on with the task – first at school, then at work. That is no longer enough, whether it pertains to my career or outside endeavours. A more confident demeanour and greater visibility are needed – to not just grasp opportunities, but to create them. These are things that I have struggled with. This past year has been a turning point for me – learning to embrace courage over comfort, to ask for what I need and want, and inspire others along the way.

This change began with applying and being accepted into Homeward Bound, a year-long women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine) leadership initiative, and has continued with my involvement in veski’s STEMsidebyside Leading the Way. These programs have encouraged, and at times required me to step outside of my comfort zone – to organise and host events, author articles, give presentations, and to reach out to individuals that I otherwise would have been too hesitant (even mortified) to contact. I have been amazed by the results – the willingness of others (even complete strangers!) to offer assistance, and by the support of those around me. I’ve encountered few ‘no’s’ along the way.

I’ve also been surprised by my ability to inspire others to take a leap and step out of their comfort zone. Although I shouldn’t be surprised – I’m a damn good engineer who has accomplished some pretty impressive things!

I will depart on 31 December 2018 for Antarctica, along with 79 other amazing women who make up Homeward Bound’s third cohort, #TeamHB3. This three-week expedition will be the culmination of our year-long leadership journey. It promises to be an exhilarating and challenging adventure – both mentally and physically. I’m not sure what the future holds or how the voyage will impact me. However, I do know that I would like to do more to mentor and encourage others, particularly women in STEMM, to put their hand up for that next opportunity, to overcome their ‘imposter syndrome,’ and choose courage over comfort.

From your point of view, to what extent are Australia’s leaders leading with courage?

Homeward Bound has led me to reflect more on the state of our planet, including the associated policy and politics. There is much room for improvement with political leadership in both Australia and my home country of the United States.

I’m ecstatic at the opportunity to learn from Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – 2010 to 2016), who’ll be joining the Homeward Bound voyage to Antarctica as a faculty member and facilitator. Her role in the Paris Agreement is a lesson in leading with courage.

I also look forward to meeting in person my fellow Homeward Bound members. I’m excited and hopeful to see what we can accomplish as a cohort and the impact we can have together with the wider Homeward Bound network – which will grow to 1,000 members strong by the tenth cohort.


#HB2 in Antarctica              Photo credit: Oli Sansom

Follow Kristen’s Homeward Bound journey on social media:

I first met Kristen at the veski STEMsidebyside program and was inspired by her spirit to ask her to participate in our interviews.  In learning more about her and her participation in Homeward Bound I am further inspired by her courage.  I look forward to hearing her stories.


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3 thoughts

  1. Our family is so very proud of my daughter in law Kristen A. Howard. We support her decision in every way. What a wonderful opportunity! What an inspiration she is to other young women and will be to her daughter as she grows up!!

    Liked by 1 person

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