In this #YesSheCan blog we speak to director and co-founder, Dipalee Jukes about her career journey.
I live in south-east London and I am married with three children aged ten, seven and four. At work, I am co-founder and director of a geotechnical consultancy practice that I have been leading since 2009.
I grew up in an immigrant household, in south-west London, with my parents and two siblings. Although I was born in the UK, and therefore a first generation British Indian, my parents emigrated from Kenya and India and came to this country with nothing. They ran their own newsagents and post office business, working every single day.
I was always conscientious about the expectation to study hard whilst helping in the family business from an early age. My parents instilled in me a disciplined work ethic and a desire to achieve for my own family many years later.
After completing a four year Masters of Geology degree at the University of Southampton, I started my career aged 23, where I secured a technician role for a geotechnical and environmental consultancy in the South-East. At the time, I was happy for any opportunity to get my foot in the door and so spent my first six months of work driving around from site to site, undertaking ground-gas and groundwater monitoring, site technician duties and anything else thrown my way. After six months, I was promoted to graduate engineer. Fast forward five years and I became a senior engineer at the same firm.
In my late twenties, I took a career break for a year and went travelling around the world with my (now) husband. The life experience and creative space this allowed me was incredible. Upon my return home in 2009, armed with ambition, drive and no employment, Ground and Water was created with my university friend Francis Williams. We are now in our 13th year of business, with a team of 27!
My day starts anywhere between 5.15am and 6.30am. I do my morning rituals (e.g. meditation, exercise, reading and journalling) in preparation for the day ahead. This is then followed by an hour of chaos whilst we get the kids up and ready. After the school run, I start work around 9:00am.
Sometimes I will have two hours of internal team meetings, comprising of individual 1-2-1 sessions with those in my leadership team or, a board meeting followed by a thirty minute team huddle with the wider team before spending a bit of time looking at emails and social media.
After lunch, I might head into Central London for a client account meeting or to work on business strategy. The late afternoon would be spent back at my desk, finishing up work and preparing for the following day. Once my day work is finished, I put on my ‘mummy’ hat and go to work in a different capacity!
I chose this career because I have always enjoyed geography for as long as I can remember. I always loved learning about the world and a favourite pastime of mine was studying maps! During secondary school, I had an inspiring geography teacher named Mr Vasilli. I enjoyed the physical geography aspects (e.g. volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics) and when I was 15, I remember watching the geological society’s christmas lectures, which naturally led me towards geology although I didn’t actually study the subject until University. Coming out of university, I struggled to work out what career path I wanted to take. I eventually found out that geotechnical and environmental engineering covered some of what I had learnt at university, as well as being very practical, dealing with problem solving and being creative. Francis was already working at the geotechnical consultancy in the South-East and told me about a vacancy.
One of the biggest challenges I faced in the industry was being taken seriously as a woman, and a woman of colour. I still occasionally get correspondence addressed as Mr Jukes. Early on in my career, I once got told (by a woman) that I was too pretty to be an engineer. I was also unfortunately subject to racism once on site.
It’s been a combination of hard work, discipline, being consistent in my approach, patience, surrounding myself with the right people who pushed and supported me along the way, and a big dose of courage to get to where I am now.
Setting up my own company was a huge challenge in itself. I didn’t have years and years of experience in the industry. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in ambition, drive and resourcefulness.
I overcame these setbacks by having some amazing people around me such as Fran. We have always been an equal partnership in the company and bring different strengths and qualities to the table.
My husband has always been my sounding board and helps me behind the scenes.
Being an Indian woman at the helm of a geotechnical consultancy, I had no choice but to embrace my uniqueness. I was on the outside from day one. Most people in my industry were white males.
My parents showed me what you can achieve if you put your mind to it. So after each failure, you get up and go again.
In my role, an initiative that I feel passionate about is empowering and inspiring more women, and women of colour, into the industry and to go for leadership roles. I’ll be working on this more this year and beyond. I am passionate about growing and developing the next generation of leaders.
I lost my father suddenly when I was 10 and I believe this has largely driven my ambition to ensure I don’t waste my one precious life. My parents sacrificed a lot to give their children more opportunies and I use this as positve pressure to fuel me. I want to provide a better life for my own family and do meaningful work that doesn’t consume me. I want life for women to be easier and see more women leaders in the world as a whole.
What’s great about being a female in my role is that I get to rip up the rule book on how things have been done before me. I am acutely aware that I am now a role model for the other women in my team, perhaps other women in my industry, whether I like it or not. I have a platform and a voice to create more equality at work and remove the stigma around female issues that people just don’t talk about in the work place, e.g. periods, pregnancy, motherhood and menopause. I can create a new culture in my own company on how things should be done to ensure women are included in the decisions.
The three biggest achievements in my life are being blessed with three healthy children alongside building a successful business.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt along the way is that you cannot control others, you can only control your own thoughts, attitudes and behaviours. So spend more time focusing on yourself and how you can improve.
The challenges that my gender has brought me in my career…
I had less confidence and self belief, especially when I was younger, and I know more women suffer from this compared to men. This likely held me back from trying to achieve more at an earlier stage of my career.
From a practical perspective and dealing with things, such as being on your period or being pregnant, can cause huge amounts of stress and anxiety if you have to go out onsite and you’re nowhere near a toilet all day (I am talking from experience!). We still have issues now where female toilets are not always provided on construction sites. There is always the underlying issue of female safety and the worries that come with it when we are out and about on sites.
I truly believe that these types of issues are barriers for attracting more women into the construction and engineering industry.
My hobbies outside of work:
Over the past 3 years, I have taken up running properly and now find I need it in my life. It provides mental and physical fitness. I completed the London Marathon last October and now have a desire to run more long distance races. My other hobbies are yoga, meditation, reading, drinking tea/wine and I LOVE a beauty treatment.
My mantra in life is:
Life doesn’t get easier, you have to get better (stolen from Jim Rohn).
The three tips I would give to young females starting their careers would be…
1. Be courageous in asking what you need and want. Push outside of your comfort zone! No one is going to fight your corner as much as you can.
2. Start working on your self awareness and personal development early on – understand your behaviours and what triggers them – what’s working for you and what’s not serving you well, what do you need to work on and change?
3. More females tend to suffer with confidence issues, have a bigger lack of self belief and greater imposter syndrome. Face your fears, practice makes progress.
The best piece of advice that I’ve ever been given would be to keep learning and invest in your personal development, it will reward you both in personal and professional life and it will enable you to become a person of value and when looking for a new role, choose it based on the type of person you want to become in order to have the life you want to have (aka the ‘BE-DO-HAVE’ principle).
Someone who has impacted my life would be my mother. She worked full time in a country which was not her homeland, where she struggled with the language, brought up three children, cooked fresh meals every night, did all the household chores and carried on doing it all after my father passed away. She showed me that women are capable of doing many things.
My key motivators are:
I think there is some momentum from businesses addressing gender imbalance, but I also think more can and should be done. We need to get more intentional and at grassroot levels, going into schools and communities, and talking to families and young girls.
One strategy to help women achieve more prominent roles in an organisation is having the self belief and confidence that you can fulfil the job role (e.g. if going for a promotion). You don’t have to know how to do it 100% before you apply, but you do have to go armed with the right attitude, desire, work ethic, discipline and values. These are far greater attributes than skills alone and women sell themselves short.
I would also encourage women to get themselves a mentor or a coach. They can support you, advice you and hold you accountable.
If you’re a woman aiming for a leadership position, stop worrying if you’re ready or if you have what it takes. Take the bold action first and you will figure out a way to make it work. Believe in yourself. Confidence is a skill and it needs to be practiced regularly.
One crucial lesson I’ve learnt is to listen more than you talk and listen with compassion and without judgement.
Growing up I was painfully shy. I am still quite shy and reserved in a group. So, to my sixteen-year-old self, I would say:
You don’t have to be the loudest, most confident person in the room to get high up on the career ladder or to be a good leader. Introverts can excel in both these areas, so be your unique self and don’t think you have to become loud to be heard.