In life, we sometimes come across people who inspire and have a lasting impact on our lives. For Eunice Israel, it was her math teacher who not only taught her to love math but also taught her to see life through a different lens. In our interview, we talked about trusting our intuition, the value of speaking up and how representation matters.
A strong upbringing
Born in the UK to migrants from Nigeria, Eunice’s parents were always encouraging her to do well in school. They sent her to study in Italy, where a long-time family friend of her parents had set up a boarding school. It was here where she became fascinated by math.
“When I was 16, I started boarding school in Italy and became captivated by math. My math teacher had a great teaching style that was very engaging like no one else. He was full of charisma and very intelligent. He changed my perspective on education as a whole.”
Eunice joked that Nigerian parents push their children to grow up as lawyers, doctors or engineers — so her parents must be proud of their daughter who is now kicking goals as an engineer at Mott MacDonald as a Permanent Way Design Engineer and Design Coordinator.
But Eunice didn’t just pursue a career as an engineer because it was her parent’s dream — it was simply because she had now understood a subject that she had struggled with for many years and wanted to carry on with a career path that she could put her new-found skill to good use.
For the love of seatbelts
Eunice’s first job out of university was in the automotive industry where she looked after seatbelt safety in agricultural, fork trucks and construction vehicles as the Quality Engineer. She jokes that she’s an expert in seatbelts and now vigilantly checks every single seatbelt every time she’s in a taxi or Uber.
She then joined the rail industry and progressed through several engineering roles before joining Mott MacDonald as the Permanent Way Design Engineer.
Eunice has worked hard and progressed quickly in her engineering career. The ‘secret’ to her career success was having supportive line managers who had a lot of trust and confidence in her — especially when she didn’t believe in herself.
“I’ve been blessed with amazing line managers. I remember one who believed in me more than I believe in myself. I remember he said to me ‘In six months, this is where I think you will be’ — and indeed that did eventuate.”
Just like her math teacher back in school, her managers have been a guide to her.
“There was a time when my manager wanted me to create a presentation. I was apprehensive at first because I hadn’t done that sort of presentation before, but he believed I could do it — and I did! Great managers are like teachers. It’s amazing when you can work with someone who can take their time out to coach you. If you have an engaging manager, you can do better in your role.”
When talking to Eunice, you cannot help but notice how warm and engaging she is.
“I enjoy communicating and connecting with people. I want to make people’s lives easier — that’s what engineering is all about.”
Feeling seen and heard
Eunice feels she can step up and progress in her career at Mott MacDonald.
She regularly attends events hosted by the Women’s Engineering Society and finds them incredibly invaluable for her career development.
“I find these events and initiatives very beneficial, especially since I want to be a Senior Engineer. I enjoyed watching the panels, hearing their stories and the knowledge sharing. I find it so important because career progression is sometimes different for women compared to men [referring to if women have time off to have children]. These events prepare me for what to expect.”
As a black woman, Eunice feels seen and heard, especially during the global Black Lives Matter movement protests in June this year. It gives her peace of mind knowing she is working for a progressive organization.
“The murder of George Floyd was a catalyst for a lot of industries and companies to engage in conversations about race.”
“There were discussions around race at work which I supported by being a panelist on one of these discussion sessions called ‘Listening Roundtable’. Mott MacDonald has been proactive in all of this and it has made me feel seen. They have an ethnicity pay gap report which was unheard of for me.”
Over the years, Eunice has learnt the value in speaking up more, especially being in a non-traditional industry. She has had instances in the past where people have come across as condescending.
“It has taught me the importance of speaking up, especially in meetings and to have a voice. I’m here to engage and give my expertise on something. It isn’t straightforward because sometimes I don’t know if they are talking to me in that way because I am black or because I am a woman. But I need to be confident of my abilities and push myself forward.”
Eunice doesn’t take things personally. She says that our actions sometimes result from situations and circumstances that we were brought up in and our current environments. Therefore, it’s not useful to judge others. Instead, she finds value in being empathetic and taking the time to understand people.
When Eunice is not busy working, she’s fascinated with learning how the brain works. She is currently reading The Organised Mind which she raves about. She proudly showed us the dozens of colourful sticky notes she had on her desk!
“The book made me zero in and look after myself. It teaches you how to optimize the mind and brain. Last year, I felt I didn’t look after my wellbeing. The lockdown has made me realize that I needed to look after myself. I also applied the principles of this book into the workplace and it’s helped me become relaxed by being more organized.”
We asked her what would be her best career advice, and Eunice says,
“Get to know yourself and your strengths. Be honest with yourself on those strength and growth areas — and make peace with that. I’m naturally not the most organized person, but I’ve made peace with that which allows me to gently work on ways to improve myself. Understand who you are and where you’re at in your life. Perhaps you’re not confident in meetings. If that’s the case, challenge yourself in the next meeting and raise one point.”
A sure way to find ourselves is through volunteering and making a difference to our communities. Eunice loves to give back and dedicates her time to volunteering in school STEM programs. She believes there is so much to do in engineering spaces, especially for women and enjoys spending time with young people to share the almost endless opportunities in the field.
“Sometimes, people progress so far in their careers and forget to go back and share their experiences. There is just so much to do in engineering.”
Eunice is now the person she wanted to see back when she was a young woman and is helping carve a pathway for future generations.