Up the Women!
This week, following a record-breaking win against Norway, England’s Women’s football team progress to the EURO 2022 quarter-finals. It’s time to discuss whether the UK’s women can likewise lead the way in Civil Engineering.
Aside from the obvious bureaucratic and ethical advantages of diminishing the gender gap in engineering, the simple fact remains: statistically, getting more women into Civil Engineering and Infrastructure just makes sense. Accessing this massively marginalised population of engineers could extend the market of an already skills-short industry. Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) forecasts predict that construction needs another 250,000 workers by 2026, and data from the CSN (Construction Skills Network) Industry Outlook 2022-2026 shows that civil engineering technicians will be among those in the highest demand.[i] According to Morby’s recent article for Construction Enquirer, recruitment and retention are set to overtake material supply as the ‘industry’s biggest headache’ in 2023.[ii] Add to this the fact that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to perform better; there remains little excuse not to pour energy into attracting more women into the Civil Engineering field.[iii]
So, if drawing more women to careers in construction could hold the key to the ongoing skills crisis faced by the sector… where can we unlock and, importantly, secure this potential?
Worryingly, as reported by Women’s Engineering Society (WES), the UK has been trailing behind other European countries with the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals at less than 10%, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%.[iv] Worse, the number of women registered technicians and engineers in the UK dropped between 2015 and 2017.[v]
The chilly climate (coined by academics to describe an area where women's involvement or progress is discouraged) faced by female engineers is repeatedly cited as the cause for women’s systematic drop-out rate when comparing the West with countries such as India.[vi]
Looking to the successful example, then, of India, the notable difference is women’s confidence and ease among male peers. This indicates that the fault lies not in the UK’s education system but rather in its culture and society. For this reason, a culture which encourages a growth mindset (much like ours at Unite People) has the capacity to transform the gender disparity in the UK’s civil engineering profession, as Varun Aggarwal’s article has found in his example of India.[vii]
Therefore, growing up in a world where women’s achievements are celebrated and officially recognised will undoubtedly inspire and bolster a generation of ambitious girls. For example, looking up to those engineers named in the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) annual Top 50 Women in Engineering awards, released on 23rd June to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day. Civil Engineers featured prominently on the list, with 14 women representing the sector.[viii] More of this, please.
Moreover, as engineering becomes more environmentally conscious, the industry can utilise women’s ‘soft’ skills of empathy and compassion to further progress itself sustainably. Thus, a culture of encouragement is essential for Civil Engineering to develop in ways which benefit the world and work towards a future where engineering and climate activism intersect. Women like Laing O’Rourke’s Rossella Nicolin evidence this, leading the way on new sustainability teams.
Civil Engineering must recognise its own contribution to the climate crisis and redress these implications with considerate and meaningful action. This starts by diversifying its workforce with women to better represent new voices: a more inclusive industry which is willing to listen, to learn, and to change its ways.
Delving into the successes of WES’ Civil Engineering pioneers just proves my point here…
Though Rob Hakimian rightly highlights the wide scope of expertise championed by WES’s annual Top 50 Women in Engineering, there are recurrent themes among the 14 Civil Engineers which the list celebrates. The sheer scale of interest in environmental and developmental, progressive, engineering presented by these women is undeniable. For instance, Medero specialises in geoenvironmental engineering and has invented the K-Briq, made from 90% construction waste, whilst Kia’s work pertains to Environmental Engineering, and Bhanderi manages several projects to cut carbon emissions. Kohli has helped to develop Kliima, a climate data tool, and Killen’s software PANDA has a potential to cut embodied carbon in construction by 40%. Parikh champions Sustainable Construction and International Development, focussing on smart solar solutions in resource limited communities. Likewise using her skill to better communities, Thompson’s career has seen her co-found a social enterprise, D-vers-ty. First glimpsed in her internship at Balfour Beatty, Teliani has a longstanding regard for the environment and sustainability, while Irvine led the formation of Arup’s climate emergency response committee together with female colleagues.[ix]
Crucially, a focus on culture within the workplace can transform women’s experience in construction and ensure that the Civil Engineering sector retains its much-needed female workforce.
Proving that it is possible, Network Rail and National Grid have been named among the best employers for women.[x] Let’s see what insight a closer look at these companies can offer.
Attract, Recruit, Retain. These are the buzz words making waves in Network Rail’s ambitious target to achieve a 26% female workforce by 2024.[xi]
Furthermore, revealing a genuine commitment to new and expecting parents, Network Rail has launched the Working Forward Pledge.
All of this began with a transparent publication of Network Rail’s gender pay gap, produced in 2018, revealing the company’s shortcomings. These publications demonstrate a proactive approach to tackling the gender pay gap, without shying away from past failings within Network Rail. The Civil Engineering industry can learn from its mistakes too, and they are committed to improving gender equality in construction and engineering firms, exemplified by the Inspiring Women in Construction and Engineering Pledge, a joint initiative of Construction News and New Civil Engineer.[xii]
By: Charlotte Knowles
[i] “The Construction Industry Training Board 2021,” CSN Industry Outlook - 2022-2026 - CITB (umbraco.io) 12/07/2022
[ii] Aaron Morby, “Rising wages and skills gap to overshadow materials issues,” Construction Enquirer, https://www.constructionenquirer.com/2022/06/29/rising-wages-and-skills-gap-to-overshadow-materials-issues/ 14/07/2022
[iii] Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, “Why Diversity Matters,” McKinsey & Co, January 2015 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/why-diversity-matters 14/07/2022
[vi] Varun Aggarwal, “Engineering Is a man’s field: Changing a stereotype with a lesson from India,” Scientific American, 2013 http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/engineering-is-a-mane28099s-field-changing-a-stereotype-with-a-lesson-from-india/ )
[viii] Rob Hakimian, “14 civil engineers named among Top 50 Women in Engineering 2022,” New Civil Engineer, https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/14-civil-engineers-named-among-top-50-women-in-engineering-2022-23-06-2022/ 15/07/2022
[x] Rob Horgan, “Network Rail and National Grid named among best employers for women,” New Civil Engineer, https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/network-rail-and-national-grid-named-among-best-employers-for-women-23-05-2022/?utm_source=Bibblio&utm_medium=Recommendation&utm_campaign=Recommended_Articles 13/07/2022
[xi] “Network Rail Gender pay gap report 2020,” Network Rail, https://www.networkrail.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Network-Rail-Gender-Pay-Gap-Report-2020.pdf 13/07/2022
[xii] Rob Horgan, “Inspiring Women pledge hits milestone,” New Civil Engineer, https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/inspiring-women-pledge-hits-milestone-21-06-2022/