"I help make sure the lights stay on in Belgium"

Dorien Jannis was still in primary school when she saw a TV report on the founder of a well-known electronics company. "I was just a kid, but even then I realised that I too wanted to help build the future." And that is what she does today as an engineer at Elia, the operator of the Belgian high-voltage grid.

Today, her business card reads Programme Manager Infrastructure. As an energy engineer, she manages fifteen project managers at Elia and is ultimately responsible for a portfolio of infrastructure projects. This means that she delivers projects on budget, on time and at the required quality level – all while ensuring safety is the top priority.

Dorien often works in the southeastern parts of Belgium, in the provinces of Luxembourg, Liège and Namur. "I'm currently working on overhauling and upgrading the East Loop, a 24-km above-ground line running between Malmedy and Brume. We'll be replacing more than a hundred high-voltage pylons so we can optimally integrate renewable energy into the grid."

Elia is using a new type of pylon made of high-performance concrete. They have a smaller footprint than the standard 4-leg steel pylons. "I am also working on upgrading a major connection between Belgium and France. These projects were briefly halted due to the coronavirus and the lockdown, but have resumed now that the necessary safety measures have been implemented. Expanding the optical fibre network in Belgium is also on my agenda. This is a network that enables lightning-fast communication between high-voltage substations, among other things."

Giving her all

For Dorien, the diverse nature of her job is a definite plus. Working with the project leaders, she shapes the projects that are part of her programme. She determines the strategy of those projects, implements it and, where necessary, reconsiders it. She consults with municipal authorities and stakeholders, and manages contractors on project sites. "Up to and including the delivery and commissioning of new infrastructure. This variety makes the job really interesting and varied."

She likes the fact that what she does is so tangible. "I get to see my projects evolve from designs on paper to actual implementation in the field. That gives me a lot of satisfaction. I see my responsibilities as a challenge and that motivates me to give my all every day."

Dorien also finds meaning in her job. "My work has a direct impact on Elia's mission, which consists of developing the grid infrastructure of the future. What I do is also useful for society: I literally help keep the lights on in Belgium."

Young potential

Dorien joined Elia right after completing university. She's been with the company for nearly 10 years. She also worked for several years as a project manager there. "In my last year at university, I came into contact with Elia through my supervisor. That gave me a chance to access the data I needed for my thesis. That initial contact was very positive."

Knowing a number of recent graduates who were working at Elia and who were enthusiastic about it, she decided to give it a try herself. "I was recruited into the Young Potential programme. For two years I would spend several months working on different projects in different departments. '

Dorien quickly learned how the organisation worked and she built up a network within the company. "But most importantly, I discovered which job suited me best. I had just received my engineering degree and did not know what to expect in the workplace. For me, that programme was the compass that showed me my career path."

During her engineering studies, Dorien was one of the few women on the course. And even today she mainly works with men. But she doesn't see that as anything special. "On my degree course there were two women, including myself, and 50 men. But I never thought that was strange. I was constantly encouraged, both in my classes and at home. From my family, I learned that you can achieve anything if you work hard enough for it. And that you have to do what you love."

Raised eyebrow

She sees the fact that there are so few female engineers as an additional incentive to prove that she is in no way inferior to her male colleagues. "As a female engineer I can hold my own perfectly well. Very occasionally, there's a raised eyebrow when a woman appears on a project site, but that disappears as soon as it is obvious that you know what you're talking about. I have a front-row seat to the evolution from a 'traditional man's world' to greater balance between men and women. Elia always wants to send in the best person for the job, regardless of gender, ethnic background or age. "

Dorien does not believe in stereotypes about men and women. "Some people claim that women can communicate better than men, or are better or more empathetic people managers. But I think those are clichés. It all depends on the individual. In any given domain, there are both men and women who are competent or incompetent."

What will the engineer of the future look like? "The engineer of the future is someone who, in addition to his or her technical expertise, is very communicative, can guide and motivate people, and who is not afraid to make decisions based on data and information. I would like to evolve and grow in this role in the years ahead. For me, the job of engineer is a calling."

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