Milly Henneyake featured

Inspirational Woman: Milly Henneyake | Civil Engineer, Arup

Milly Henneyake
Photo: Harry Parvin

Milly wanted to do a job that would help people and have an impact on the world, so decided to be an engineer.

Now she works as a civil engineer, making people safe from flooding. She has worked with charities in projects around the world. In South America, Milly improved the design for temporary housing so that houses could be built safely and quickly by small groups of people. In Kenya, she worked with Engineers Without Borders to install plumbing and drainage into communities that had none.

She is now a civil engineer for Arup, where she builds structures to make people safe from flooding. Milly draws designs and works with other experts to manage flood risks. She works with nature, from rivers and lakes, to trees protecting riverbanks. Milly works to make sure what she builds is sustainable, thinking about the environment and reducing the impact on ecology. Her work keeps people safe after large storms.

Milly is a part of This is Engineering Day, a day created by the Royal Academy of Engineering to celebrate the world-shaping engineering that exists all around us but often go unnoticed, as well as the engineers who make this possible. As part of This is Engineering Day, the Royal Academy of Engineering has announced plans to create a new virtual museum named The Museum of Engineering Innovation, which can be accessed through QR Codes dotted around the country as well as by visiting Google Arts and Culture. To view the first collection of exhibits, which include Jonnie Peacock’s running blade, visit https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/museum-of-engineering-innovation. #BeTheDifference

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

I did a general engineering degree at the University of Cambridge and graduated with a master’s in civil and environmental engineering. Throughout university I was involved with Engineers Without UK and the university chapter, which piqued my interest in international development and humanitarian aid and helped shape my attitude to engineering. I was fortunate to be able to do a wide range of internships and voluntary projects throughout my years at university.

I now work at Arup as a civil engineer with a focus on water and cities. At the start of my career spent three years on site in a supervision role for the construction of Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, which helps to protect the city centre of Leeds from flooding.  Since then I’ve been doing a lot of design work with multidisciplinary teams.  A couple of years ago I did a voluntary Engineers Without Borders UK placement with Kounkuey Design Initiative in Nairobi, Kenya.  I learned a lot and really enjoyed working with the team out there. I am still trying to figure out how I want to develop my career.

I am is part of This is Engineering Day on 4 November 2020, a day dedicated to celebrating engineers and engineering. Created by the Royal Academy of Engineering, This is Engineering Day 2020 showcases the feats of engineering that exist all around us and that make a difference to our everyday lives and futures, but often go unnoticed, as well as the engineers behind them.  For further information visit  www.thisisengineering.org.uk or follow #BeTheDifference.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not as much as I would like to!

I have taken the time to sit down and consider my options at key turning points.  For example, I didn’t apply for graduate jobs in my final year of university and instead I looked for interesting international opportunities and ended up working in Freetown, Sierra Leone with AIP for a couple of months, which was great!  I also took the time to talk to people, where I either admired them or was interested in aspects of their career to help me decide what I should do.

I’m trying to do that to a lesser extent now every year although the time flies by so quickly that I don’t always manage to.  But I also believe that it’s good to have flexibility in your plans instead of setting everything in stone.

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

Yes definitely, both small and large.  Some of it has been about me learning how to assert myself and not always being a people-pleaser in the workplace.  It’s taken me a long time to accept it, but it’s good to be a bit selfish when making career related decisions.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I think what I’m happiest about is the variety of projects, industries and work that I’ve been involved in over my career.

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

I think one of the main reasons is being prepared to say yes to new things and projects- this has enabled me to get involved in some very cool projects!  I love the diversity and having new challenges.

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

Stand up for yourself, ask for training opportunities, apply for any openings that interest you.

Don’t be scared to say I don’t know and to ask questions when you need to.

Taking the time to build relationships with colleagues and outside of the firm is important.  Knowing the limits of your knowledge and abilities and being able to ask people who have more expertise speeds up the process and is a great way to build up your knowledge base.  In addition, being able to connect people who have similar interests or who can help each other can help you.  People skills are important in any job.

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

Speaking of the industry that I’m familiar with, the engineering and construction industry, I think there are still a lot of barriers from the obvious disparity of wages and the fact that most senior leadership positions are held by white men.

I also believe that the culture can sometimes be very macho, and women can feel pressured to adapt to the culture instead of trying to change it.  Find role models whom you admire.  Also speak honestly with peers- find the people who will have your back and who will support you in standing up for yourself and building up your confidence.

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

The macho culture can hold back both men and women.  Everyone deserves to have carrier breaks or more balanced working hours if they so desire.  A more inclusive and accepting environment will help everyone progress, particularly women.

Having leaders, especially more women, with a good work life balance will inspire more women.

There is currently only 17% 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?

I think we need to start at the very beginning.  Over the years I have spent a lot of time running workshops and talking to students of all age groups.  I’ve noticed young girls being put off by the idea of technology and STEM due to lack of confidence when first introduced to a task.  But once they actually start doing it, they realise that they can excel and a lot of times I’ve noticed that they outperform the boys.  We need to give young girls the confidence to help them believe that STEM subjects and careers are valid choices for any gender.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Networking events are great to meet others in similar fields.

I think it’s important to be reflective and try to understand what areas you want to develop.  Whether it’s your self-confidence, technical knowledge or people skills and then follow up on that whether it’s books, podcasts, events etc.


WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here