Leading engineer and RMIT alumnus Dr Collette Burke is Victoria’s first Chief Engineer.
A newly created position, the Chief Engineer advises the government on engineering aspects of the state’s major infrastructure projects and aims to raise the profile of the engineering profession.
Burke has been on a steady ascent to the top of her profession since first entering the field of engineering at 18, an industry that was and still is dominated by men.
The gender disparity when studying was noticeable, she says, but it didn’t affect her drive to establish a successful career in engineering.
“I was lucky to have a very positive experience studying. The staff at RMIT encouraged me every step of the way, there was never a question of gender.”
After gaining her PhD at RMIT and extensive industry experience, Burke returned to the University as a lecturer, an experience she credits for helping her develop the skills needed for her role as Chief Engineer of Victoria.
“I’m thrilled to be in a position where I can help raise the profile of the engineering profession in Victoria and strengthen links between government, industry and education,” she says.
“It’s exciting to be at a point where I’m providing influence at a strategic level.”
The gender gap in engineering remains substantial - only about 16 per cent of engineering students in Australia are women.
Burke believes earlier exposure is key to seeing more women enter science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.
“Women are underrepresented in STEM professions, particularly in leadership roles,” she says.
“Young women aren’t being attracted into the industry so there needs to be more work at a school level to showcase the opportunities there are for women in STEM careers.
“We need to be showing girls the kinds of roles they could be involved in. It’s hard to envisage what your career path might look like when you don’t have that exposure.
“We need to continue to strive for strong female role models in STEM professions and be encouraging mentorship and sponsorship.
“Taking the time to guide and encourage other women is critical. Talk to them about the pathways they can take to keep growing and advancing professionally.
“If you’re working in a profession that’s traditionally dominated by men, the most important thing is building resilience within yourself. It’s resilience, fearlessness and passion that will keep you driving towards achieving your full potential.”
Burke currently serves as the Managing Director of Australian engineering consulting firm Exner Group and UAE based firm Karsta Middle East.
She is also a Director of VicTrack, and a former President and National Director of the National Association of Women in Construction.
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Story: Geane Lyall