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Senior Structural Engineer, GHD; Deputy Chair, Women in Engineering
Engineering is a problem-solving profession that is shaping the future of the world – and Zhenya Pavlinova thinks it’s time more people knew about it.
“Engineers are generally not good at promoting some of the remarkable work that they do,” she said.
“You don’t hear a surgeon say, ‘Oh, I just save people’s lives’, but engineers seem to play down their achievements. You’d think building a bridge or making an aeroplane take off is a mundane task that anyone could do.”
As deputy chair of Women in Engineering’s national committee, Pavlinova, 33, aims to promote a better understanding of the industry in order to encourage more students – and women in particular – to pursue engineering as a career.
“There is such depth and breadth to engineering. It’s about creativity. If you can imagine it, you can do it.”
Pavlinova completed a Bachelor of Engineering at Central Queensland University. While she credits her science teachers for encouraging her to pursue STEM, she said she “fell into” an engineering career.
In addition to her volunteer work with Engineers Australia, she is a senior structural engineer with GHD in Brisbane. She joined the company in 2018 and has held structural engineer roles at companies including Jacobs and Booth Engineers and Associates.
A passionate volunteer, Pavlinova joined the Mackay regional divisional committee of Engineers Australia’s Women in Engineering in 2013 to help promote the profession. She became Chair of its Queensland division in 2016 before taking on the role of deputy chair of the national committee last year.
“Our overall aim is to attract, retain, support and celebrate women in engineering,” she said.
“We know there are not enough female engineers coming out of university or taking up engineering studies in the first place. That’s why promoting engineering to students is so important.”
Pavlinova’s achievements with Engineers Australia include leading initiatives, such as gender diversity awards, and organising local Women in Engineering events.
She is also the immediate past chair of Engineers Australia’s Structural College Queensland, which works to promote the interests of structural engineers.
If organisations are to retain the women they attract, they must create viable pathways to success. Pavlinova believes this requires a multifaceted approach.
“A structured graduate program, a commitment to mentoring and a culture that promotes inclusion are all valuable,” she said.
“There are a lot of companies already doing good things, such as aiming for a balanced intake of graduates, which is not always possible, because we’re not producing a balanced graduate output.
“It’s also important for women to seek out opportunities,” she added.
“If you want to take on a stretch assignment to build your skills, or go on a secondment somewhere, speak up about it.”
Pavlinova also believes in the value of female role models. She admires leaders such as Australian engineer Dr Marlene Kanga, who was president the World Federation of Engineering from 2017-2019. In the 1970s, Kanga moved from India to Australia where her engineering undergraduate and masters qualifications were not initially recognised.
“I find her story so inspiring,” Pavlinova said.
“She was so determined to work as an engineer that she didn’t give up and eventually got a break. She has been unstoppable ever since.”
Pavlinova enjoys working as a team at GHD and has recently completed a project for a new press footing for a Queensland-based aluminium facility.
“It was a small team of only three and did the design from start to finish,” she explained.
“I really enjoy opportunities to work on engineering, procurement, construction and management projects.
“I became a structural engineer because of the satisfaction of designing something that can help people and then watching it being built from the ground up. The added constraints and time pressures and all the things that can possibly go wrong during construction are all challenges that make the work more exciting and rewarding at the same time.”
Pavlinova’s immediate goal is to continue developing her technical skills.
“You never stop learning,” she said.
She’s also committed to developing new ways of communicating the vital role engineers play in building the future.
“There is such depth and breadth to engineering,” Pavlinova said.
“It’s not just about wearing hard hats or sitting at a desk and crunching numbers. It’s about creativity. If you can imagine it, you can do it.”