Folashade Shoyoye, ICE ECNet regional chair, wants to raise the profile of diversity and inclusion initiatives happening in the industry.
While I think it’s great that they can name civil engineers, I look forward to a time where it will be quite common to get the name of a female civil engineer as the first response.
That’s why, when I was a site engineer working on HS2 with Costain at South Ruislip Vent Shaft, I decided to name our site meeting rooms after female civil engineers (Fergusson and Donaldson).
I wanted, with this small gesture, to highlight the contributions of women to the industry.
A conversation starter
Mary (Molly) Isolen Fergusson OBE was a British civil engineer, and the first female Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), elected in 1957.
Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan was a Scottish civil engineer, and the first female member of the ICE.
The choice in the naming of the meeting rooms was a great tool in striking up conversations with the site team and raising the profile of these engineers and of women working in the industry in general.
It was also great when we had visitors on site who would enquire on the origin of the names.
This action I took was to promote women we already have in the industry.
However, it’s linked to the wider topic of encouraging more women and people from underrepresented backgrounds to take up engineering roles, and then how we retain the talents once they’re in.
You can’t be what you can’t see
We can’t raise the profile of women or people of Black and minority ethnic backgrounds if there are none (or not enough).
A snapshot of the ICE membership showed that in 2020-21, just 5% of those in the UK who disclosed their ethnicity said they were Black.
And engineering is a heavily male-dominated profession with women making up 16.5%, as reported in March 2022 by Engineering UK.
This is a positive increase on previous years and shows that we’re making great efforts to improve this imbalance.
But there is still so much to be done.
A lot of people have heard some variation of the saying, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.
And this is particularly true for this industry.
‘I would have appreciated seeing someone like me’
If the younger generations can see visible female role models working in the industry with an enthusiasm for what they do, they may be more inclined to want to learn more about what it has to offer and pursue a career in it.
As a young, Black, female civil engineer working in the industry, I know that I would have appreciated seeing someone like me at a careers fair.
That’s why I encourage people, especially women, to sign up as a STEM ambassador for the ICE.
Going into educational institutions to share the passion for what you do with others is such a simple but powerful thing.
Increasing diversity of thought
Approximately half of the world’s population is female.
Yet even though the projects that civil engineers deliver, such as infrastructure, are used by various people, women are underrepresented in the team of engineers that work on these projects.
That’s why it’s important to engage with women to enter the industry and include them in the discussions when they do.
By doing so, we are increasing the diversity of thought available and thereby leading to better chances of successful outcomes, during inception, design, construction and beyond.
The power of networks
Now working for National Highways, I have joined our Leading Women’s Network (LWN) as south-east England steering group representative.
I would encourage everyone to join a women’s network in their companies.
And if there isn’t one, create one.
Although this network isn’t just for engineers, I’m learning from members that there are many reasons why a lot of women leave or don’t even make the effort to join the construction industry.
Lack of support in taking the next step in their professional career, flexibility and accommodating facilities are top of the list.
Mentorship, active training and networks such as LWN have been shown to help with retaining women and people from underrepresented backgrounds in the industry.
They allow you to learn from shared experiences, paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse industry.
And if you’re already in the industry and want to let others know of the work you’re doing to promote inclusivity - or just generally share what your day-to-day job is as an engineer - get in touch with the ICE, who are always looking for more stories to share!