President’s Future Leader Hayley Jackson reflects on this year’s theme - Shape The World - for International Women's Day. (#INWED20). She shares her thoughts on what the industry needs, to be able to achieve the sustainable development goals while continuing to improve the diversity of the sector.
In the recent ICE Strategy Session ‘How can infrastructure help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ led by ICE President, Paul Sheffield and Steve Crosskey, Head of Strategic Initiatives for the United Nations Office for Project Services, it took me by surprise to hear that infrastructure influences 92% of the SDGs.
Even though ICE is working on a number of projects which aim to influence and improve the sustainability of our work, this statistic really emphasizes the important role civil engineers have in tackling the global development challenges that the industry is facing.
In the UK, it is easy to take for granted our access to infrastructure, whether that's clean water, electricity or transport systems. Even in the times of uncertainty we have faced over the past few months with the Covid-19 pandemic, communities have come together to ensure those in need have access to basic food and healthcare provisions.
But as a civil engineer, I believe it is hugely important to remember the need to achieve sustainable development worldwide. There are still over four billion people worldwide who lack access to sanitation and two billion who don’t have clean drinking water. With an ever-growing world population, these challenges are only set to increase unless we take action now.
Effective collaboration between sectors
There are industry initiatives looking at both sustainable development and improving the diversity of the engineering sector. But is this something that should be pursued in parallel to create a more collaborative approach to what would normally be considered as separate engineering challenges?
Watch Hayley discuss with fellow professionals how the industry can attract and retain more women.
According to the Women’s Engineering Society, only 11% of the engineering workforce worldwide is female, with the UK seeing the lowest figure in Europe at less than 10%. I’m sure you have seen these statistics before, but they are an even more common discussion point around the time of INWED, yet there seems to be little improvement year on year. One consideration that I think we should be taking, is looking at a wider pool of professionals to introduce to the civil engineering sector.
Environmental scientists and geographers have a broad understanding of the global challenges we face and how the planet reacts to air, land and water pollution. They understand ecosystems and how best to preserve the world we live in. Therefore, to achieve the SDGs and improve infrastructure, should the civil engineering sector be aiming to work more collaboratively with these specialisms?
In my opinion, to move towards a greener world, environmentalists should be recognised as a discipline within civil engineering to ensure that the infrastructure we design and build is prepared for both current and future challenges.
In my day-to-day role as a Site Engineer for Taylor Woodrow on High Speed Two (HS2), I see the objectives in place to design the railway for the future. For example, all permanent watercourse crossings are designed to convey a one in 100-year flood event, with the addition of a 50% climate change factor. Although this is a positive step in preparing for the future of infrastructure, I suggest a more collaborative approach between those with traditional civil engineering backgrounds, environmental scientists and geographers, increasing knowledge bases to design appropriate infrastructure for the future, but also grow the pool of professionals who would class themselves as within the civil engineering profession.
A breadth of knowledge will boost diversity and SDGs
Increasing the breadth of civil engineering knowledge to achieve the SDGs can only be a positive step for improving the diversity of the sector.
In my role as a site engineer, my key considerations are the design and delivery of infrastructure in terms of the environment, health and safety and quality. Global awareness, environmental changes and communication skills are far more important to my role than the traditional mathematics and physics-based subjects associated with the profession. Gradually changing awareness of civil engineering from this, to one that is working on key global challenges will increase the pool of people interested in developing a career in engineering.
So, to conclude and reflect on how we ‘Shape the World’ for INWED 2020, I believe we need to look at creating a more collaborative pool of professionals that call themselves civil engineers. This in turn will allow us to have the skills and knowledge required to fulfill the SDGs and in conjunction, this can only benefit the diversity of the sector.