Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year winner Michelle McDowell

Civil engineer wins Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year award

A civil engineer who has won a prestigious business award hopes she will inspire girls considering a career in the industry.

Michelle McDowell, 47, who has worked on high profile projects including the £70 million redevelopment of London's Royal Albert Hall, was named Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year.

She is chairman of BDP's civil and structural engineering business and is one of only a handful of women in the UK on the board of such a company.

McDowell, from Northern Ireland, said she hoped she was a role model who would encourage girls to consider a career in the male-dominated world of engineering.

She said she remembers being influenced by helping out as a young girl when her parents built their own house in Northern Ireland, and later went to a course for girls interested in engineering after her maths teacher father gave her a leaflet about the event.

After studying civil engineering at Bristol University, she started her career as a civil engineer and has been responsible for some of BDP's biggest projects, including schools and city academies, as well as helping secure projects overseas.

“This is a male-dominated profession and there is a tendency for women to drop away and I understand how difficult it can be to walk into a conference or meeting full of men.

“But with a level of determination, there is no reason why girls cannot pursue a career in civil engineering. I see my role as this year's winner of the award to hopefully inspire and act as a mentor for women in what is historically a male dominated industry and wider business world.”

Only around two per cent of board members in civil engineering companies are women, but McDowell said the image of the industry was “out-dated” because of advances in techniques such as computer technology.

“There is nothing better than walking into a school you have designed and seeing students using the new facility.”

McDowell’s championing of engineering has already led to the creation of a scheme to create bursaries to female students of engineering at Cambridge University, and she has promoted social and environmental responsibility in her work.

Veuve Clicquot brand director Elsa Corbineau said: “We are delighted that the judges have selected a winner who fully embraces the nature of the awards and can provide inspiration for other up and coming entrepreneurs.

“Michelle has proven that commercial success can be achieved alongside acting as an ethical business and it is wonderful to see a stand out business woman actively championing the next generation of female entrepreneurs.”

Ex-City minister Lord Myners told the awards ceremony that the failure of private firms to recognise the talent of businesswomen was the biggest missed opportunity of recent history.

The public sector and academic institutions realised a long time ago that removing barriers holding back women's progress would give them a “huge lift”, he said.

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