Anita Solanki is the head of interfaces working on the HS2 project as part of EKFB. Anita is a second-generation Hindu of Indian heritage and here, she talks about her experiences in the industry and how she has continued learning and growing her network to get to where she is today.
“I have always had ambitions to be something. I come from a working-class background and I wanted to break the mould and do something different, perhaps become a doctor or have my own business. As it turned out, I fell in love at 16, got married at 18 and dropped out of university for 10 years, putting my career ambitions on hold whilst I fulfilled the role of wide and mother to two young children.
My husband’s family had their own jeans business and during this time I worked with them doing everything from cutting patterns, quality control, sales and marketing. They were tough days and long hours but it taught me the end-to-end process of a business. At 24, I decided to retrain as a hairdresser…the only thing this taught me was that I really didn’t want to be a hairdresser, but the role was pivotal in increasing my confidence.
I then took a job with Severn Trent Water, which somehow felt like my first ‘real’ job. It was a junior position in the engineering department and on my first day I realised that I was the only female and the only other BAME person in the department was a Chinese male. I decided right then that being a female or BAME would not hold me back from anything.
This role raised my profile and I was invited to attend important meetings and industry events. It was daunting, but also a privilege and an opportunity – and I took it. Networking turned out to be a key part of my career and a valuable skill.
I did a business diploma whilst doing my full-time job and looking after two kids under nine. I passed with distinction and at the same time, I accepted a role managing a team of six. I was then promoted a further four times in five years and managing a much larger team. I felt like I had found my niche and after 17 years with Severn Trent Water, I felt like it was time to move on.
I took a job with Kier and I haven’t looked back. I joined as its head of street works, but in 2018 another opportunity arose, and I was approached about a role with the EKFB joint venture delivering 80km of HS2. I’m using my skills of organisation, collaboration, establishing external relationships and creating usable end-to-end processes to keep our whole team on track and compliant.
I no longer doubt myself; I can honestly say that I have worked hard and had great managers who have believed in me and given me a platform. You don’t need to be an engineer to work in engineering. Young or old, male or female, there are jobs for you in the engineering and construction world. Seize every opportunity and build your network, it will serve you well and always listen to the positive forces in your life.”