Women In Tunneling features an exemplary female representative of the tunneling industry each month in order to amplify their experiences in the underground field. This month we introduce you to Violaine Babolat, Business Development & Pre-Construction Manager, CBNA (Bouygues Construction).
What is your actual involvement in the tunneling business?
Half the heavy civil business of Bouygues Construction is in underground works. As business development manager for North America, I identify the projects where CBNA can best bring our added value, recommend them to the headquarters management and build up the team (partners and designers) to execute them. I am then the main point of contact for the client, and work in partnership with our technical manager, other corporate departments, partners and subcontractors to develop an attractive proposal and carry it all the way to project execution. My technical background and commercial role push me to get involved in all aspects of a project, from technical specifications to insurance coverage, from stakeholders to key suppliers.
How were you introduced to the tunnel industry, and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Building connections between people by developing infrastructure has been my primary driver. On top of this, I found stimulating team work, exciting technical challenges and never ending learning opportunities.
People outside of the industry don’t tend to understand exactly what the job entails. What is it like to work as an engineer on underground projects?
As a project manager, I am at all interfaces. It means receiving many emails and attending many meetings! And understanding from those what is key to the project’s success, determine the actions to be taken and team members to be gathered to achieve these goals. It requires understanding the technical issues at stake, as well as the stakeholders concerns, client’s background, corporate approaches, etc.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
I am proud that professionals that I respect find me trustworthy, particularly in changing environments. After 3 years in estimating, I felt like moving to project management: I invited myself to several meetings, exceeded by job to perform tasks from the position I was seeking, until being recognized and named pre-construction manager.
A few years later, my company trusted me to go from a technical position in the headquarters to a business development role in a new entity
Even though the number of women has been increasing over the years, the tunneling industry is still considered a male oriented environment. What do you think are some of the factors or obstacles—either societal or sometimes even self-imposed— that deter women from entering the underground career force? And what can we do as an industry or as a society to encourage more women to join?
I do believe that the obstacles appear very early. In engineering school, we were only 20% of women. Even if it is twice as much as in the workforce, it is still very low. I believe that societal pressure on girls is heavy and that we could contribute to educate young girls and let them know that they can do it if they wish to.
Another important factor once in a career is solidarity between women: one’s success is success of all of us.
How do you tap into your inner leader? What advice would you give on having the courage to honor your voice and to speak out and contribute your influence?
What do you have to lose? What if you speak up?
Was it a bad idea? So what? the brainstorming continues, your idea will have been fueling it and you will be a contributing factor.
Was it a good idea? Well done, now people will remember you and value your opinion.
Do you feel less knowledgeable or experienced that this person next to you? This is probably true on certain topics. And this is probably the other way around on others. Are you interested in his/her sharing? Then he/she is probably interested in yours.
Looking back, what two pieces of advice do you have for your younger self?
Don’t try to do it all by yourself. It is ok to ask for help, people will even be glad and proud to be asked for advice. Find a mentor if you can.
What do you hope the future holds for yourself, for the industry, and/or for other women who will be a part of tunneling & underground construction?
I hope that the future will bring meaningful projects, respectful of the environment, of the people they serve and of the people who build them. I hope that being a woman will be one of your defining factors if you want it to, not the only one, and certainly not a barrier to everything you wish to achieve.