"I used to resist being called a female engineer"
This #INWED2022 we’re celebrating some of the inspirational female engineers working for us and helping to build a brighter future. Nicola Fauvel is Head of Delivery Integration at Hinkley Point C. She talks about the huge opportunities engineering has given her during her 23-year career with EDF – and how she can’t imagine doing any other job.
This interview is also available to listen to:
Q. What type of engineer are you?
A. I’m a Mechanical Engineer. I’ve worked for EDF for 23 years now: 10 years in generation, five years in France and eight years on site at Hinkley Point C.
Q. What does your job involve?
A. I’m Head of Delivery Integration at Hinkley Point C, but I’m currently on secondment for a special project. When I’m not on secondment, my role is focused on construction preparation. So I look at interfaces and how we integrate work streams to make sure everything is done in the most efficient way possible.
My time working at Flamanville in France was invaluable for what I do now at Hinkley Point C. I learnt a lot about best practices and took lessons from their construction – and other sister EPR plants – that I incorporate into our delivery model for the project here.
Q. What has been your career path?
A. I followed a classic degree route into engineering. Apprenticeships weren’t available when I was studying. But, if they had been, I’d definitely have taken this option, as I would have loved the combination of practical and academic learning.
My first job was as a sponsored student on the railways. I was one of the last people to have a British Rail contract before they were privatised!
After graduating, I began my career at EDF, working on the generation side of the business, before heading to France. It was a great experience: professionally, because I was working at Flamanville and responsible for the lifecycle construction of three buildings. But it was also a great personal experience, as my family and I had the chance to sample the expat lifestyle.
On one hand, it could be viewed as outdated to stay with the same employer for such a long time. But, honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve worked for just one company these past 23 years. I’ve worked in different parts of the business, had the chance to live abroad and tackled new challenges in every role.
It has been such a great experience to be constantly enriching my skillset and addressing gaps in my knowledge of areas I’ve never worked in. As somebody who gets bored easily, the chance to change roles and challenges really interests me – and, as a big company, EDF can offer this.
I’ve also been supported by EDF in my non-work life too. I’ve had two kids and, when they were young, I worked part-time hours to spend more time with them. I moved with my family to France and back. I’m now a single parent and there’s flexibility in my role that allows me to fit home commitments around my work. In fact, I try to role model this to others on site – men and women – by blocking out in my calendar ‘home to my other job’ when I need a bit more flexibility, so that others in my team feel they can do the same.
Q. What motivates you about your job?
A. I’d say there are at least three things that drive me at work. The first is the legacy of the Hinkley Point C project. In my job, I feel like I actively get to contribute to our company purpose of helping Britain achieve net zero and tackling climate change.
Then there’s EDF as an employer. They really motivate me because I’ve had such a good experience with them. I feel really valued as an engineer, mum, woman… all the hats I wear! I’m also constantly being given the opportunity to learn new skills. For instance, I told my boss that I didn’t feel as strong in my commercial knowledge, so the secondment I’m on now involves a large degree of commercial work!
Finally, the third thing that drives me is the variety of work as an engineer. Every day is different – there’s certainly no risk of getting stuck in a rut! There’s a real creative side to being an engineer; it’s not all technical work. I speak French frequently in my role, for instance. And a big part of what I do – day in, day out – is creating something new, be it a new way of working or new processes.
Q. Are women equally represented in engineering?
A. There simply aren’t enough women represented in engineering yet. There’s a definite improvement; a step change that we’re seeing. Interestingly, when I worked for EDF in France, there was a 50:50 split between men and women. So I think it’s to do with the pipeline of talent. We haven’t got that yet in the UK.
Q. What do you think we can do to increase the diversity of the sector?
A. We need to help young girls believe that engineering can be a career for them. It’s a creative subject and it’s a great environment to work in.
I also think senior representation is an issue. Why do women sometimes get to a certain level and start to drop off? Maybe it’s because there’s still not enough of us in the pipeline or the talent isn’t being retained.
I used to resist being called a female engineer. But I remember hearing somebody say once that if you don’t see people like you doing a job, how can you ever see it as an option for you? So I view it differently now; rather than seeing a role model as someone who’s exceptional in their job; I now see it as someone who’s visible in their job. And that’s important if we’re to bring more young women into engineering.
Q. How does EDF support D&I?
A. As a company, EDF has a strong ethic and clearly wants to encourage diversity through their tagline ‘everyone’s welcome’. This is a good thing. There’s plenty of evidence that the strongest teams are diverse teams. Cognitive diversity is important – we don’t want everyone to think the same way. And diverse teams improve the quality of debate, the quality of solutions and the effectiveness of team working.
Q. Is there anything about engineering that you don’t think people outside the industry know about it?
A. We should be shouting more about the way in which engineering touches everything we do in our lives. Whether it’s the ring pull you find on a can of juice. An airbag in a car. Or a flight to Malaga. All of these things involve engineering. What other career can offer the same breadth?
Q. If you weren’t a mechanical engineer, what would you like to do for a career?
A. I wanted to be an engineer from the age of 12 – I feel I was genetically programmed to be an engineer! Together with my Dad, I built a kit car, a Land Rover and a boat. I love engineering so much that I actually feel inadequate advising my children on what they might want to do for a career, as I don’t know anything other than engineering as a profession.
Of course, this passion for the subject also made a rod for my own back… as I had to succeed as an engineer. But maybe that’s what’s driven me all these years. I remember when I’d just completed my application for the Chartered Institute of Mechanical Engineers, I said to my mentor, “Well, that’s done then.” And he said: “Oh no, this is just the beginning.” And he was completely right.