Van Tang, manager of GHD’s South Australian operating centre, is a civil engineer with more than 12 years' experience in design, design management documentation, project management and verification of airfield and other major transport infrastructure projects.

She recently won the 2014 Telstra Business Women’s award for South Australia.

Architecture & Design spoke to her about what winning the award means to her, working in a male dominated industry and how being a refugee has influenced her approach to work.

You recently won the 2014 Telstra Business Women’s Awards for South Australia. What does winning that award mean to you?

I hope to set an example and inspire both women and men to make the most of the opportunities that come their way. Engineering is my passion. I would like to show that this is a profession that requires not just technical capabilities, but also excellent communication, problem solving, organisation and negotiation skills.

What has your experience been like as a female in a male-dominated industry?

The engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services sector is a great industry and career path for both women and men. The work we do makes a real difference to communities and society and leaves a lasting legacy for the future. My career developed and progressed as I gained more experience. I was never held back by any preconceived notions.

What do you think true gender equality would look like in Australia's workplaces?

To create a level playing field for both women and men, it is crucial to support, encourage and empower people by providing an environment where everyone has an opportunity to succeed. Nearly everyone would agree that discrimination is unacceptable, but we also need to examine assumptions that might be holding some people back from progressing into senior roles. We need to be courageous, give people self-belief and help them on the journey.

You came to Australia as a refugee. How do you think that has influenced your approach to your work?

My experience has taught me resilience. I have been able to overcome challenges by viewing them as opportunities. I am also very fortunate in having been brought up with both my natural Chinese-Vietnamese parents and my Australian family, who have supported and encouraged me throughout my career.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the engineering industry at the moment?

In the consulting sector, our people are our greatest asset. At a time when some parts of our industry are experiencing a slowdown, we need to continue to develop our people so as to avoid a skills gap in the future.

What are some solutions that you think could work?

To successfully serve our clients and the community in the long term, we need the right mix of technical skills.

What project are you most proud of?

I am most passionate about aviation projects – upgrading airports without disrupting operations, delivering hangars, workshops, new offices and training facilities. Aviation projects are extremely demanding but also rewarding. As a proud South Australian, the Air 7000 project for the Department of Defence at RAAF Edinburgh was particularly complex and personally satisfying.