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Why civil engineering being a male-dominated industry will soon be a thing of the past

17 June 2022

In the return of our Women Like Us series, Kayla Browne asks: with plenty of female role models in construction, why is the industry still perceived to be male dominated? 

Why civil engineering being a male-dominated industry will soon be a thing of the past
Kayla: 'I would like to one day consider myself a role model, encouraging, supporting and inspiring young professionals'. Image credit: Kayla Browne

I’m a woman in engineering and I love it here!

In my experience, there are plenty of female engineers and site members in the construction industry, site and office based.

It may not be equal to the number of men in the profession, but should that mean that it’s male-dominated?

The gap is reducing day by day with more women entering the industry, yet the perception of the industry remains.

‘More awareness is needed’

To find out why, I first contacted an engineer with eight years' experience in the industry and multiple civil engineering disciplines under her belt.

“Even though the construction industry traditionally has been male-dominated and still part of it is (mainly on-site works)… the recent feeling for me has been fully overturned,” she said.

She noted how nowadays, more women are joining the industry in key positions in management and engineering, and she’s also noticed more women working on sites.

But she said that more awareness is needed.

Conversations with site teams and STEM outreach with young people can help to encompass change and reach the goal of a more equal workforce of men and women.

“Initially, when I joined, it was only me and one more woman in the office.

“In a period of four years, a positive growth of women has been achieved in management, engineering and on site,” she explained.

“That fills me with hope that these numbers will grow further.”

Supporting apprentices

I then asked: if you could do anything to change the way the industry is perceived, what would you do?

She suggested all companies raise awareness of apprenticeship programmes and take an active role in assisting apprentices in their career path, especially site-based ones.

When I asked an apprentice with around two to three years of site experience the same questions, her answers were similar.

She said that women have shown society that we can do exactly what men do. That construction is for men and women.

“Women have, over time, worked their way up and hold some of the highest positions in the construction industry as well as other industries,” she pointed out.

Kayla at the 2022 BTS dinner
When I attended the British Tunnelling Society (BTS) dinner in 2022, I sat on the BAM Nuttall, Morgan Sindall, Balfour Beatty (BMB) joint venture table. Being surrounded by so many influential people during my first project as an apprentice has moulded me into the engineer and mentor I am today. This photo from the BTS dinner shows only a handful of industry role models excelling in their field, many I look up to. Image credit: Kayla Browne

The apprentice confessed that as society portrayed it, she, too, thought it would be a male -dominated industry.

However, she soon realised this wasn’t the case.

“The second I walked into the [office or site], I saw the amount of women we had working on the project, and I felt proud to be a woman in construction,” she said.

‘Every day I see more women in construction’

She said: “I’d change the way that people see the industry as male-dominated so that people aren’t surprised to hear that you work in construction.”

“Every day I see more and more women in construction, either on LinkedIn or through site visits,” she added.

LinkedIn allows people of all backgrounds, ages, and industries to discover different careers though other people’s eyes.

From apprentice first days and students trying to get work experience, to CEOs going on site visits to amazing projects.

It’s a great tool to show that in fact, there’s many women working, and excelling, in construction!

Looking at the ‘facts’

I spoke to a male engineer and received a different response.

He said it’s a fact that an overwhelming majority of the construction workforce are male.

He also pointed out the fact that there are other industries where that’s the case, and others that are in fact female dominated.

“Throughout my education history, I’ve never experienced the education authority or visitors from the engineering field dissuade females from joining engineering and construction,” he said.

Why does the myth exist?

This made me question, why does the myth exist?

Why is the industry perceived to be male dominated when women aren’t dissuaded to join, as the male engineer pointed out?

The truth is, there’s no one person or thing indicating that women aren’t in the industry or can’t be a part of it.

It’s simply an industry where people come together and work to create legacies. Where we construct, maintain, and design the natural and built environment.

Positive encouragement

The male engineer highlighted that since he joined the industry four years ago, he’s seen lots of positive encouragement of women in engineering.

He said he’s noticed a real effort to try and attract more women to construction and engineering through different platforms, such as:

  • LinkedIn
  • Women in Engineering
  • Inter-company groups
  • ICE initiatives
  • Career events

Similarly, I believe the key lies in having someone to look up to that you can also relate to. In other words, seeing more female role models in construction.

Role models

There are various female role models in the industry.

For me, a couple are the project director for Tideway West and the engineer who taught me how to survey (and who is now supporting me to become an Incorporated Engineering Member of the ICE).

I would like to one day consider myself a role model, encouraging, supporting and inspiring young professionals to follow my path, or carve their own.

I’ve mentored and supported apprentices in the years below me to help prepare them for their professional reviews and other awards and scholarships.

I found the experience really rewarding.

What does it take to be a role model?

We all have different role models for different reasons.

From technical expertise and career path to emotion control and personal strength.

Some people consider themselves to be role models, while some don’t. Some aspire to become one someday.

I believe everyone is a role model.

You may not feel like one, but it’s how you carry yourself, your unique career path or even just your role that people will look at and admire.

I think civil engineering being a male dominated industry will soon be a thing of the past.

The working environment will be more balanced in terms of diversity, and in turn the myth will bust!

Hopefully that means more women will join the industry and discover just how amazing it is.

You might be interested in...

My Skills My Life: an outreach resource created by WISE to inspire girls aged 11-19 to consider a career in STEM. It includes a role model search!

Find out more
  • Kayla Browne, site engineer at BAM Nuttall Ltd