Two ICE members, Josie Rothera and Siu Fa Ng, share their experiences of working in a male-dominated environment, and give advice on how to #BreakTheBias this International Women’s Day 2022.
Josie Rothera: As an ICE reviewer, I’m often the only female of the three parties in the room (two reviewers and the candidate).
However, last year I was on my first all-female review panel and the candidates themselves were also female.
It’s experiences like this that give me hope that we’re on a journey to greater gender equality.
It was wonderful to hear from my lead reviewer about her journey into the industry, and then to hear from our two candidates about their journeys to professional review.
At the end of one of the reviews, the candidate made particular reference to the unique, all-female review. I hope that her experience will remain with her, as it will do with me, as significant within the industry.
Stereotypes faced in the built environment
J: I’m female in a predominately male industry. I’ve faced challenges and provided some opportunities.
When I worked on construction sites, there were times that I felt judged and was questioned about my level of knowledge and ability to deal with situations.
I worked on my confidence.
I went out of my way to talk to the operational teams, the ones that wouldn’t be expecting to see a female on a site. I would ask them about their experiences, decisions that they would make where there were problems, and by doing this they spoke to me more freely and with more intention.
There were projects where I felt like a valued member of the team, with people watching out for me.
I can remember one instance where one subcontractor manager would constantly speak to the project manager instead of me, when I was the lead manager for their works.
I discussed this with my project manager and he called a meeting with the subcontractor, where he made it clear that it was me that was in charge of the package and that they needed to refer queries through me in the first instance.
Siu Fa Ng: One incident that stood out for me was when I was a site supervisor working on a construction site.
Being the only female, a person of colour, and from a less dominant group on site, I felt I had to verbally repeat the project manager’s work instructions to a site agent and the site personnel so that defects were corrected.
The difference in consultancy
J: My short experience in consultancy was different. There were more women in the office.
Most of the project lead engineers were male and there were few female leaders. This was over 10 years ago and the balance between male and female, certainly in consultancy organisations, is becoming better.
S: Like Josie, I didn’t face problems in consultancy organisations.
The recruitment challenge
J: Recruiting women to construction sites is getting traction, keeping them there can be a challenge because of changing life circumstances!
I was a site agent up until the birth of my first child. The project was handed over when I was seven months pregnant, and then I was moved to office duties.
It was always clear that my role as a site agent couldn’t be done part time, nor could the location be guaranteed to be near my house (the last project I worked on was over 60 miles from my house).
But my career was given a new steer, and I went into academia for the next seven years.
The image of construction
J: Another challenge is the image of construction.
Breaking down the traditional image of construction sites into a more inclusive one is a step forward. With the advent of new technologies on site such as remote-controlled equipment, this could attract a more diverse workforce.
The importance of allies
S: One thing I want to highlight is the role of male allies in recognising talent within the industry.
I think that it’s vital for men, especially those who are, or have ever been in, a position of power, to continue to be an active ally, for example, in salary negotiation.
I’m blessed to be on the receiving end of great male allies who bravely step in when they sense that something is off, and provide practical advice in handling situations.
I want to equally recognise women allies, such as my mentor, Veronica Flint Williams, who inspired me to be the best version of myself that I can be.
She is excellent at encouraging me to join high-profile endeavours, such as the ICE Net Zero Carbon group (contract and procurement workstream), saving the world through creating contract clauses.
Why you should become a professional reviewer
S: I became a professional reviewer as a way to pay forward the time spent by those who shaped me to become a better civil engineer, a lot of them male mock reviewers.
Reviewing a candidate allows me to broaden my understanding of developments in various ways, such as how to install an offshore wind farm in west Denmark, and health and safety regulations in Hong Kong.
From these, I can reflect on how I could approach something in a better way and learn lessons from the industry and fellow engineers.
Humbly developing myself while advancing women in their careers? That’s even more than what I originally signed up for!
J: I’ve always been a keen advocate to show the opportunities that women can reach in engineering and the built environment.
It won’t always be easy, and the path that you choose might not be the one that you first thought that you had in mind, but there are so many different roles that need transferrable skills that you have.
Being an ICE reviewer is an example of something that you can do, that advances your engineering knowledge and skills, while helping aspiring engineers find their way.