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Does your team reflect the diversity of the community you're building for?

17 June 2019

As we approach International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, Bechtel's Linda Miller challenges all engineers to call out bias in the industry.

Does your team reflect the diversity of the community you're building for?
Linda Miller

Thirty years ago, a young Bechtel engineer stood at the foot of a steel mega-structure—a Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex—and thought she was looking at a monument to engineering greatness. A soaring, 25-storey structure of construction wonder. A marvel of the modern world.

Around her, a host of construction workers toiled away moving their materials and equipment to build their vision.

Decades later in London, she worked on Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure project, then tunnelled under Sydney Harbour for a new metro line, and now working in Texas for its first high-speed railway line.

Bechtel teams before them delivered some of the UK’s most celebrated railway projects including London St Pancras Station and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

'The key ingredient is people'

The years between the mega-projects has dramatically reshaped that young engineer’s view of how greatness should be defined in our industry.

The decades and a career spanning the globe have taught her that the key ingredient for making the great projects of the 21st century successful isn't steel, concrete or top-of-the-range equipment. The key ingredient is people.

As a leader in an industry that's delivering an unprecedented level of planned infrastructure projects abroad and in the UK, such as HS2 and Thames Tideway, my focus is now on building great people and great teams.

I’ve come to realise —and it’s a realisation that's growing stronger and stronger—that the inspirational and astonishing people that make up our diverse and resilient industry are what will be the key differentiator in the success of projects in the future.

We need to make sure we don't succumb to bias

Gender bias in design has received a lot of column inches in the last few months – from NASA not having enough suits for an all-female spacewalk, the car industry solely using average male-sized crash test dummies, and AI voice assistants using female voices that reinforce the idea that women are "subservient".

Until relatively recently, even sourcing women-sized protective clothing in our own construction industry was akin to finding a needle in a haystack! So how can we as engineers make sure that we don’t succumb to bias and we design for everyone?

I’m using my platform as ICE international lecturer to help address this question, and it's a simple answer: get more women in engineering. Create opportunities for women. Encourage girls to study and then take up these jobs. Actively recruit women, keep them in our industry and promote them.

Creating the right environment is key. Teams must be able to freely express concerns about other’s biases and acknowledge their own. To do this effectively, we need to foster cultures that are open and move away from old industry stereotypes. Feedback needs to be both welcomed and appreciated.

As we approach International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, I challenge all of you to call out bias and ask yourself - and your employer - what actions are you taking to create teams that better reflect the diverse communities for whom we build. Only by raising the stakes on how much we care about diversity can our industry thrive.

  • Linda Miller, Construction Director at Bechtel at Bechtel