'Ensuring diversity within ICE's fellowship community must be a top priority,' says ICE Fellow, Ciara Lappin, while reflecting on the networking event created for women in fellowship.
ICE fellows are renowned worldwide for their expertise and contribution to the profession. Almost by default, fellows are industry leaders – direction-setting for the institution, the profession, and the infrastructure sector at large, as we rally to play our part in tackling society’s key challenges.
I was astonished to learn that out of ICE’s 5,000 fellows around the world, fewer than 300 of us are women - around 5.5 per cent.
Much good work has been done over the decades to improve the overall industry trend, and that’s playing out in ICE’s membership statistics. Women make up 15 per cent of ICE’s overall membership, but around 22 per cent of those are under the age of 40.
The numbers beg a simple question: why are so few women fellows of our institution?
ICE Connects: Women in Fellowship
These statistics came to light as ICE – rightly – looked to address this issue directly, firstly through connecting the cohort of women in fellowship.
This began with an inaugural event in October 2021. Held online, at the invitation of then ICE President Rachel Skinner, it brought together ICE’s women in fellowship from around the world.
Attendees spanned 15 countries and five continents, and I can honestly say it was the first time I felt a real sense of community - a fellowship - start to take hold within my career-stage peer group.
The event took a high-level approach to challenges faced by senior women and started to examine why, when we often think of glass ceilings as being broken, so few women are still found at the top of numerous fields.
Exceptional women from a range of sectors reflected on these themes.
We were joined by renowned Paralympian Baroness (Tanni) Grey-Thompson, who reflected on the tenacity required to amass a remarkable total of 16 Paralympic medals, Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a top science broadcaster who talked about the challenges of being perceived not to fit the mould, and broadcaster Sally Magnusson, who inspired us all to use our voices, tell our stories, celebrate our successes and, in doing so, encourage others to step forward.
Workshops and networking
Inspired by these women, and excited to come together to encourage more women into fellowship, ICE then organised a networking workshop for women holding ICE fellowship to discuss and debate what can be done to support and inspire women and many others.
I chaired one of the workshop sessions full of exceptional civil engineers keen to mentor others, share best-practice, and support each other through creating a network.
These conversations have been some of the most stimulating, useful and inspiring I’ve had in many years.
The value of connection
What strikes me about the ICE Connects initiative thus far, is the value of getting together.
The simple opportunity to speak with other people who have had similar experiences, share insights (and a few laughs!) and grow a sense of camaraderie, is more valuable than I first imagined.
I was saddened to hear from one attendee who said she didn’t know any other women who were ICE fellows, and that it was a lonely place to be. We cannot afford to have exceptional civil engineers at the top of their field feel like outsiders.
Spaces to connect and share as women in fellowship are important, and I look forward to growing that community, but it’s also important that we have the right conversations across the breadth of the ICE membership and beyond.
Women cannot solve this problem alone, and there are other diversity challenges within our fellowship cohort. We will work best in tandem with other groups across ICE, the wider industry, and our peers.
Diversity makes us all better. ICE’s fellows are leading voices within our profession, inspiring others and driving forward industry efforts across society’s biggest challenges.
Therefore, it’s vitally important that our fellows are the best reflection of the people in our profession. We all have an obligation to make that a reality.