‘Women bring fresh perspectives to construction’

Inspired by her late father, Suzanne Ng Siew Lian has found her calling as a civil engineer. She is now working at Malaysian construction company MMC Gamuda, based in Kuala Lumpur.

“My late father was a civil engineer himself. He used to share some of his interesting encounters with the family, which often fascinated me. I enjoyed our interactions most when we discussed and brainstormed how to mitigate clashes or discrepancies between design drawings and actual site conditions,” Suzanne recalls fondly.

Suzanne has been around the construction industry for more than 15 years, delivering numerous large-scale construction projects across Malaysia, including major railway developments. Among them is the Sungai Buloh – Kajang (SBK) Line 1, part of the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) project, the country’s first MRT system. The SBK Line is now being referred to as the Kajang Line.

“I am proud to have been involved in the SBK Line 1 MRT project. The amount of interfacing and coordination works was extensive. Despite the overwhelming workloads, the good rapport shared among the team was the main factor that kept my adrenaline pumping high,” Suzanne says, still filled with excitement.

“It was especially rewarding when our brainstorming sessions yielded effective solutions on site, when a tough task concluded, and witnessing every tiny milestone that was achieved building up towards a bigger picture.”

Besides tackling challenges and overcoming difficult projects successfully, the satisfaction of engineers also comes from using technology that can help them complete those projects faster and more efficiently. For Suzanne, it is the BIM (Building Information Modelling) technology.

“Considering the costly impact of rectification on construction projects, BIM is a lifesaver!” she exclaims. “The use of BIM has indeed helped us identify problems sooner and resolve them much earlier. For example, when we review the mechanical and engineering design drawings incorporated into the BIM drawing of civil design, we would be able to virtually identify clashes, working space constraints and even design flaws in advance.”

‘Never fear the stereotypes’

Thriving in a male-dominated industry, Suzanne has always held her head high. She would even respond to negativity with positivity – and wit.

“I was once told directly by a subcontractor that a construction site is no place for a woman, and that I should stay in the kitchen,” she shares. “I smiled sweetly at him and replied, ‘The site is like your house and I am the lady owner (a.k.a. your wife). You wouldn’t dare tell your wife to stay put in the kitchen, right? Unless you want to get kicked out of the house?’”

Suzanne believes that women “bring fresh perspectives to construction, as generally we think quite differently from men.”

For all young women aspiring to pursue a career in the construction industry, Suzanne’s advice is clear: “Never fear the stereotypes or problems of sexism in the industry. As long as we give our best in whatever we do, we will succeed even in a male-dominated world.”

Photos courtesy of Suzanne Ng Siew Lian