I am Ayo, my name means Joy.
Who am I?
I am a chartered civil engineer, BBC TV Presenter, Speaker, Coach, and I am writing my 1st Book. I have also been lots of other things in the past, elected councillor, Deputy Mayor of Reading and Even a Beauty Queen and Model.My passions are going for walkies, saying hi to cute dogs, horse-riding, singing, dancing, performing, and reading. Amongst all this, I am also Autistic.
Why am I writing this article?
Autistic adults are the least likely to be employed. The Office of National Statistic (ONS) published data showing that only 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment. This is a shocking stat. Working can provide a sense of freedom (financially), independence and a career can be way of expressing one’s purpose. It makes me sad that so many autistic people like me cannot access work.
I hope this article will help as I share a potential career for my fellow autistic – A career in Civil Engineering.
What is Civil Engineering?
The Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) Royal Charters granted in 1828 describes Civil Engineers as: “The art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man”. To me, this has never been more important with the climate change challenge and declining infrastructure no longer fit for purpose that needs to be maintained and adapted for changing future needs.
This is all in the wheel of house of civil engineers. Civil engineering is broad and the various profession within it are too. A civil engineer could work in structure such as bridges and tunnels, or specialise in geotechnics, energy, water management, flooding, and coastal risk management, drainage, infrastructure planning. And even within that there are some many roles to do such as designer, project manager, people manager, contractor, site supervisor, site manager, site agent. Across these broad facets of civil engineering and the various roles, there could be a role that suits you.
Who can be a Civil engineer?
I am often asked who a civil engineer can be. I don’t think there only ‘one’ type of person that can be a civil engineer. In fact, I think the key thing that make a great civil engineer is someone who cares about the world around them and wants to make a difference. This is certainly the case for my engineering heroes, William Dargan, and Joseph Bazelgette.
For example, William Dargan was an Irish engineer in the 19th century but ultimately like all engineers I respect that he was a humanitarian. He overcome many engineering challenges from canals to designing Ireland first railway. He was a connector of people and community, and he changed working condition for workers at the time paying a fair wage at the time that was unheard of and in the great famine in Ireland he paid staff advanced wages to keep them fed and bolster the economy. By 1853 he paid £4 million in wages and his legacy is taking Ireland to the industrial age and infrastructure he delivered.
Why Civil engineering may suit an Autistic mind.
I find a strong sense of justice and living on purpose rarely strays from mind. And this is common amongst autistic people. One way I have being able to express this has been my career as a civil engineering where from my first project that protects 5 homes from flooding to working on mega scheme like TEAM2100 that protect London and the tidal estuary and 1.25 million homes. The impact of my efforts is tangible and that’s important to me. And engineering is a career that is important across the globe wherever you hail from or whatever you want to live and work. The research also says Autistic brains systemising nature makes for great inventors and engineer. Though we are not a monolith as a community, this has been true in my experience.
How can you be a Civil engineer?
There is no one way to be a Civil engineer either, you can go to university, do an apprenticeship, or find it later in life as a career change. I am always saying: “The cruellest thing we can do is try and be a second-rate version of someone else in a different time”. And this is true in this case. The world of work and engineering is ever changing, and we need to innovate. So, my advice, would be get out there and get some experience and try things out and see what works for your strengths and learning style and then do more of that.
Preventing Burnout – Asking for Accommodation
Like so many autistic people, I felt ashamed for my difference as prior to diagnosis, my autistic traits had been things people wanted me to hide and change. So though getting diagnosis, was liberating and life affirming for me, it took a long time for me to no longer be ashamed for what and who I am and how I do things and instead be able to ask for accommodation. In fact, I still struggle with this as I simply think people won’t care and the fear, they won’t make me sacred to ask to prevent being disappointed in humans as a collective, a belief I know would make my joyful disposition hard to maintain. However, I urge you to ask for this accommodation. Things are changing and it does not have to be so difficult.
Are you an employer? – Make the workplace neurodivergence-friendly
I would direct you to Genuis in Kind resources and training, they share how to improve things on an organisational level for those with neurodivergence. I think employers should make a commitment to learning about neurodivergence and making changes that support all staff at whatever level and neurodivergent job seekers.
BBC Presenter, Civil Engineer and a leading keynote speaker in her field – Ayo Sokale possesses an array of talents and expertise, working at the cutting edge of the scientific, environmental and media landscape.
A generation of young people have grown up following Ayo on BBC Reel and BBC Bitesize, where she’s covered the first principles on an array of scientific subjects from Physics to Design.
She also works as TV expert on STEM issues – documentaries for the likes of the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Yesterday TV and Channel 5 – and counts Shell, Heineken, Blue Yonder, the NHS and Thames Water are among the leading clients she has worked with as a keynote speaker. She is also working as a Presenter on another major BBC project coming to your screens soon.
Ayo is a Chartered Civil Engineer and Project Team Manager for the Environment Agency in Eastern England and is a popular Keynote Speaker on the environment and sustainability. She was previously a project manager and BIM lead, pushing for innovative, efficient and sustainable delivery of flood and coastal risk management schemes.
Ayo was a Graduate Civil Engineer on the Environment Agency’s training scheme where she undertook internal and external placements which enabled her to sign off her ICE training agreement in 2.5 years and achieve CEng in 3 years.
A former Deputy Mayor of Reading, she campaigned tirelessly on sustainability issues in the area.
Ayo was selected as one of Professor Lord Robert Mair’s Future Leaders for his year as President of the ICE. She is one of the ICE’s Water Superheroes aptly named Eco Warrior (previously Angel) and is an excellent Motivational Speaker and Inspirational Speaker, particularly when it comes to inspiring young people to pursue STEM subjects.
Ayo is a STEM ambassador and mentor, encouraging others to take up careers in Civil Engineering. She was also nominated for the Top 50 Women in Engineering under 35 initiative run by The Telegraph in partnership with The Women’s Engineering Society.
In recent years, Ayo has felt more able to talk about being on the autism spectrum.
She is writing her first book in the field of self-development to support these endeavours.
Ayo loves the performing arts, fitness, has a passion for supporting great causes, and has raised funds for a number of charities, using her platform as a beauty queen and finalist for Miss Galaxy England, Miss Earth and Miss Great Britain.