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Founder, Power of Engineering; Director, Industry Partnerships, Swinburne University
If you’ve driven on a new road in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne, chances are Felicity Furey has had some role in making that journey possible.
As a civil engineer, Furey has been involved in delivering multi-million dollar transport infrastructure projects for organisations including Arup, AECOM and Brisbane City Council. And while she’s built many things, it’s a tiny dirt road in Brisbane that she names on her list of career highlights.
Gap Creek Road was Brisbane’s last dirt road thanks to Furey, who helped transform it into something fit for the modern era. And being able to take her mum for a drive down the newly developed road, pointing out every bend and culvert along the way, was the perfect reminder for why she loves her job.
“You create these tangible things, things you can point to and say ‘I helped build that’,” she told create.
But beyond physical infrastructure, Furey is helping lay the groundwork for future generations of engineering leaders to make their mark on the world and create something that has meaning for themselves and others.
“You create these tangible things, things you can point to and say,
‘I helped build that’.”
One of Furey’s passions is inspiring tomorrow’s leaders, and she definitely puts herself out there as a role model for future cohorts of engineers.
She has been named a Superstar of STEM, was listed as one of the AFR’s Top 100 Most Influential Women and on the 2018 Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers list, and was named an Engineers Australia Centenary Hero last year.
While she was working full time as an engineer, she co-founded Power of Engineering and Machinam, which strive to connect school-aged kids (especially girls) with the joys and relevance of engineering and maths professions.
Together, these programs have reached nearly 700 schools and almost 11,000 students across Australia. And they’re working: three out of four students who participate in the programs report changing their minds about engineering and maths as a result.
The goal is to get young minds thinking differently about what they can do with engineering skills and training, which Furey hopes will lead to a more diverse profession and better outcomes for communities.
As she puts it: “Engineers design so much of the world around us, but if the engineering profession is 90 per cent men, it means women’s input is missing from 90 per cent of the built world.”
This applies to other forms of diversity as well, including difference of experience, ability, age and background.
She feels that conversations about diversity can often be placed in the too-hard basket because “it’s very uncomfortable and people don’t like to feel uncomfortable”.
“This is a complex societal issue, and we need to approach it from many different angles. It’s not just if we do this one thing, we’ll fix it,” she said.
But in her experience, and supported by many studies on the subject, diverse teams lead to better solutions.
“We’ve got to be ok with being open to those differences and being uncomfortable about it,” she said.
“We’re going to create a world that is designed by everybody, for everybody, if we have a range of engineers working on things.”
Change starts from the top, and embedding diversity in engineering organisations needs support from leaders – current and emerging. One of Furey’s future goals is to contribute to a new style of engineering leadership, one that views diversity and inclusion as fundamental to the profession.
To this end, Furey has plans to start a leadership academy with the goal of seeing 10,000 leaders come through the program within its first 10 years.
Furey is also looking to scale the impact of Power of Engineering and Machinam. She is working on a documentary series with her co-founder Dr Jillian Kenny (also featured on this list) to inspire the next generation of engineers through their experience learning to fly a fighter jet.
“This documentary series will supercharge the conversation about the possibilities of engineering and where is can lead, reaching millions of young people and the wider community. This is what is needed to create a diverse and inclusively designed world and engineering profession,” she said.
These passions – showing the possibilities of a career in engineering and creating a new type of engineering leader – are reflected in the people who inspire her.
Furey lists Else Shepherd and MP Karen Andrews as two women in engineering who have blazed trails.
Shepherd, one of the first women to graduate from UQ with an electrical engineering degree and one of the first women to work as an engineer in Queensland, is “just so herself”, Furey said, and proof that you don’t have to fit the mould to be successful.
“She’s genuine and an amazing mentor for young people, but she also has this great technical engineering skill.”
Andrews, who currently serves as the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, personifies the varied and interesting career an engineer can have, Furey said.
“She started as a mechanical engineer, but she’s run an HR company and now she’s a Minister … I just love that engineering can take you into all of these different roles,” she said.
“I’d love a career like hers where you’re creating change in a business setting or in politics – there’s just endless possibility.”