When Helen Leung Ho-kent started her career as an engineer in the construction industry two decades ago, she was treated like an alien from another planet. 'People just stared at me, they didn't know how to interact and communicate with me,' she said. Ms Leung is project development director for infrastructure at Ocean Park and a member of Women in Construction, an organisation that advocates the contributions that women engineers make and lauds the important role they play in a traditionally male-dominated industry. 'The ratio of women in construction professions such as surveying, engineering and architecture is increasing with more women progressing in their careers,' said Miriam Walker, group marketing manager for construction consultancy firm BK Asia Pacific. Ms Walker is chairwoman of Women in Construction, which is part of the construction industry's charitable Lighthouse Club and does charity work through fund-raising events and social networking activities. It also provides a platform for women in the field to exchange ideas. It also addresses specific concerns regarding site and construction safety. Another committee member and resident engineer with the MTR Corporation, Jill Kennedy, said: 'Hong Kong sees a higher percentage of women involved in the construction industry compared with countries such as Britain, Australia and the United States, especially in surveying and architecture. 'Due to the imbalance of the sexes in the workplace, the performance of women in construction is probably more noticeable. That's why women probably put more pressure on themselves to perform well. 'However, this still compares poorly with law and medicine where women now make up almost half of the active profession,' Ms Kennedy added. 'It might be the old-fashioned muddy boots image people still have that stop women from joining the industry.' Long working hours in the local industry were a hindrance to women, especially for those with families and children, Ms Kennedy said. 'The short and inflexible maternity leave in Hong Kong in comparison to other countries, such as Britain, also prompts women to leave the industry after having a baby,' she said. Although Hong Kong has seen an increase in the number of women taking up construction employment, there are still many taboos for them in the industry. 'For instance, if bamboo scaffolding workers see a pregnant woman first thing in the morning, they will refuse to go to work because it means bad luck to them,' Ms Leung said. Although she takes charge of all construction projects at Ocean Park, Ms Leung is not allowed to get into the site of the funicular tunnel. 'Standing at the exit of the tunnel would already upset some people. It's an international superstition. Whenever a tunnel is being built, women are not permitted to go inside the tunnel until it is broken through,' said Ms Leung, who has been involved in major infrastructure projects such as the Airport Core Project and the Tsing Ma Bridge. 'The Asian trade has many more superstitions than the western trade.' As the only woman in her department, Ms Leung said she could only rely on reports from her staff, and pictures taken inside the site, to check on the progress of the project. 'You can't physically get your hands on the problem, which makes it difficult for me to solve it or give practical advice and solutions on the spot,' she said. 'It's really frustrating. But I think it's something that I have to live with and make the best out of it.' In Hong Kong many women find employment outside of construction companies - either with consulting companies in architecture, or in engineering and surveying - and are regarded as equals by their male counterparts. Ada Fung Yin-suen, an architect by profession and deputy director of housing for development and construction with the Hong Kong Housing Authority, said: 'Women construction professionals can enjoy equal opportunities and career development in government. When it comes to recruitment and promotion in government departments, there is no difference between men and women, and the number of women architects, engineers and surveyors in the government is also growing.' To attract more women to the industry, Ms Kennedy said that more role models in the industry would help. 'There is absolutely no reason why women shouldn't be engineers. I don't see any reason why women can't excel in the industry with better communication skills and teamwork.'