Laura Hughes

Laura Hughes, Fugro’s Country Director in the UK, is responsible for all Fugro businesses operating out of the UK.

She oversees over 1,500 employees and works to co-ordinate all business functions for them. Additionally, she is responsible for Fugro’s Land Site Characterisation business, managing everything from infrastructure design and development to construction, as well as forming part of the Europe and Africa leadership team.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My background is based in engineering, having gained my MEng in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cambridge. Since then, my career has seen me take on many roles, from Senior Engineer at Shell to Commercial Manager at Tullow Oil, to Operations & Development Director at Cuadrilla Resources.

This has taken me all over the world – I originally learned my trade in the Netherlands, but I’ve been involved in projects in Egypt, Brazil, Gabon and Uganda too. I also took a break after my first role to study a one-year Master of Business Administration at IMD business school in Switzerland.

Now, as Fugro’s Country Director in the UK, I am responsible for all Fugro businesses operating out of the UK, overseeing over 1,500 employees, as well as heading up the Land Characterisation business. As a geo-data specialist, Fugro are experts in understanding the interaction between the built environment and the surface of the planet, across both land and marine. Our work is at the heart of energy transition and involves incredibly exciting technological innovations, so it is a really interesting time to be involved.

I am also a non-executive director of The Welding Institute, a foremost independent research and technology organisation specialising in materials and joining. We have proprietary expertise that has been used in pacemakers, nuclear reactors, wind turbines and we’ve even invented a technique to weld wood!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did, but like so many people, it didn’t pan out how I expected! In fact, when working on some new career planning tools for Fugro I found an early plan I had during my first job, so I could see how much has changed.

I decided quite early on that I wanted to do some post-graduate study, and it was during my MBA that I took a long, hard look at my career choices. I decided to stay in the energy sector as I was committed to making a difference in such a critical industry.

I’ve also recently been working on plans for the latter part of my career, in which I’m hoping to move into a portfolio career, so I’m already thinking about how I can develop my skills to prepare for that.

I find planning really helpful, even if you end up taking a different path. If you’ve set out a certain plan, you can always refer to it and use it to help make considered, conscious choices about each step of your life and career.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Of course – there is no such thing as a job for life anymore, and if you want to have career diversity and progression then you have to be prepared to face challenges and make choices.

I remember that it was a tough decision for me to step away from my first role and the security that comes with a job at a major international energy company. I’d had great experiences and there was opportunity to progress. I could have stayed longer. However, I realised I needed a change to achieve what I wanted long-term, so I made a bold leap.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Even within the context of my career, I consider my family to be my biggest achievement. I am married with two children, so balance all that is involved with them (including music practice, Brownie and Beaver badges and early/late swimming pick-ups) with everything I do at work.

They are wonderful, energetic and sometimes infuriating, but they are just as much a part of my career as I am, moving around the world with me and arranging so much of their time around my work. My husband manages our lives, and my kids are incredibly accommodating – we’re all in this together and work as a team, and I’m incredibly proud of all of us!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

As well as developing my technical skills and business acumen, I’ve worked hard to understand the way in which I work – analysing my strengths and my blind spots and working to address things that don’t come so naturally to me.

I’ve also learned to be very active in the management of diverse teams, as getting the best out of your team is the way to have success. I always work on the “how” of the teamwork as well as the “what” to ensure we’re finding the most efficient and successful ways to maximise the skills of our teams.

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What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Firstly, I’d say it’s important to know yourself and understand what you bring to the conversation. That doesn’t mean you have to expect yourself to be an expert in everything, but credit yourself with the things that you are truly good at and show the value you bring to the table.

Secondly, I’d say to candidates applying to new roles, it’s very useful to mentally assume the role before you get it.  If you want to go for a promotion or a new job, liberate yourself from all the reasons why you shouldn’t or couldn’t do it.  Put all the obstacles to bed and let yourself be in the role that you want to go for and think about what you are going to do in that role – even before you get it.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, there is still a way to go. One real barrier is that roles are still often defined through experience rather than by competence or aptitude. This means that promotion often favours those who have conventional career paths as they tick a lot of boxes. I think women are much more likely to enter STEM careers via alternative routes and this experience-first mindset therefore disproportionately affects women. There is therefore a responsibility on businesses to break that mould if they really do want to embrace diversity in the workforce.

As women in the tech industry, we each need to be revolutionaries too – challenging the status quo at the same time as doing a fantastic job and pursuing our dreams. That is the only way we can contribute to breaking these barriers down.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

To be able to find creative and effective answers to the big challenges of today, companies need to develop a culture and environment where every individual can make their best contribution. To do this, companies have to be much more informed and sophisticated about the way in which they understand their employees and the way in which they interact with one another. If companies embrace individual identities, characters, ideas and mindsets, it will break down a myriad of barriers to enable a much more diverse and powerful workforce.

On a more transactional level, I think that companies need to be open to defining role requirements in a broader way, to make promotional space for candidates with alternative career paths.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

In addition to the barriers within the industry that I have already mentioned, I believe that a lack of acceptance in society that men can play the major role in childcare is another huge obstacle that negatively impacts the career prospects of women, across all industries.  After I wave my wand, shared parental leave would be the norm and completely accepted. There would be no prejudice against fathers who need to promptly leave work to do the after-school pick-up and it would be expected that fathers would need to take the day off if a child is unwell.

Whilst society has broadly embraced the contribution that women can make to science and technology, we have not yet shed our traditional attitudes to the contribution that men are expected to make in the home. Without a shift in this dynamic, women continue to be presented with too many priorities and unsustainable workloads.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

All the below are great resources that are worth a look, particularly for women interested in leadership roles: