Two Leeds women who have come from abroad and overcome adversity to pursue their ambitions of working as engineers have urged girls here to consider the career.


On National Women in Engineering Day, Russian Inna Laurinaitiene, 35, and Italian Laura D’Oca, 39, spoke about the opportunities for girls in the profession.

Inna studied in Latvia and Lithuania, then moved to Yorkshire at the heart of the global economic crisis, before finally landing her dream job as a structural engineer for BAM Construction.

“If you like maths and physics, nothing can stop you,” she said. “The only problem is a lack of information in schools – if girls can’t imagine engineering, how can they go into it?”

Inna, who is currently working on the construction of Withernsea School in Hull, said she was given an insight into engineering through her father.

“My dad was a signals and electronics engineer in the aviation business,” she said. “I went to his work and he helped me with maths and physics, which became my favourite lessons at school.”

After finishing school, she went to study aviation engineering at Riga Aviation University in Latvia, but the course was closed when funding dried up during the country’s split from Russia in the early 1990s.

“I could not get another free place on a course in Latvia so I was advised to move to Lithuania to study, and I took a civil engineering course at the Kaunas University of Technology,” said Inna.

“I had to learn Lithuanian at the same time, but fortunately many of the lecturers spoke Russian as well so I got by.”

Upon finishing her four-year degree, Inna moved to work full-time at a local engineering firm, but the global downturn in 2008 left her wages insufficient to cover spiralling costs. By this time she had a husband and a two-year-old son.

“We had an idea it would be better in the UK – which was silly of us,” Inna said. “I had to work in a factory, as a care assistant, whatever I could. I also had my second child. But I kept studying English and went to the University of Leeds to do a masters in civil engineering.”

The dedication eventually paid off with a role at a local consultancy and then, earlier this year, the move to become structural engineer at the Leeds office of national firm BAM Construction. She is now working on the Royds Hall Community School in Kirklees and another school in Hull.

“It has been a challenge learning the new codes, and the ways of working, and I’m tired, but it makes me happy,” she said. “It can be a challenge for women combining work with family commitments but it can be done if you work hard.”

So will children Lukas, 8, and Lina, 4, follow her into engineering?

“I tell Lina she can be an engineer but she only wants to be a princess,” says Inna. “Lukas wants to be a scientist.”

Laura, 39, also works for BAM Construction as a structural engineer.

She moved to Leeds in 1998 and had to do two years of studying English before she could start on a civil engineering course at the University of Leeds.

She took a job as a receptionist at an engineering consultancy in the city and made sure the bosses were aware of her ambition to move up the ladder.

“You have to be proactive to succeed,” she said. “Nothing in life will just come to you.”

After getting a job at the firm working on bridges, Laura moved into the buildings team, before returning to Italy to work as an assistant project manager for an oil and gas company.

On coming back to the UK a year later, she resumed work in the industry, eventually landing her job at BAM Construction in August 2014. She is currently working on Wolfreton School and Sixth Form College, another school and a University Technical College in Leeds.

Laura does not believe being a woman has held her back.

“It has been the opposite, actually,” she said. “People have looked after me and also men talk differently to women than they do to other men – less swearing, less testosterone.

“There is no reason girls can’t be engineers. You have to be confident in your own skin, and able to deal with working in a male environment, but there are no barriers because of your gender.”

The women cited creativity and problem solving as reasons they enjoyed working in the profession.