The debate surrounding women in construction is almost as tired as the age old ‘politician in a hard-hat’ photoshoot opportunity – it should have moved on considerably more than photos in shiny new hi-vis and other such simple soundbites.
However, it is also true that the recent trend for positive discrimination in promoting women in construction is not without criticism with some obvious pitfalls.
It is with this in mind, here at the Federation of Piling Specialists’ (FPS) Early Career Group (ECG), Women in Engineering Day for us isn’t about putting women on a pedestal regardless of merit, it is all about promoting the merits of a career in Engineering to the younger generation, and the wide variety of job opportunities within the industry regardless of gender. If that approach just happens to attract more women into the industry, then that is an outcome we will be vocal about.
Having had open and frank discussions surrounding the topic, we found that we do not want to be singled out as being any different to our colleagues because of our gender, and to be treated as equals within the workplace. We were often in agreeance that because of the apparent need to ‘meet a quota’, we felt we had to go above and beyond to prove our worth – although this commonly wasn’t because of how we were treated within a company but rather how we view ourselves.
Historically, the ground engineering industry has been reluctant to welcome the views of all and this lack of inclusion has discouraged new talent from entering the industry. In the UK we are challenging this mindset and pushing for the ground engineering industry to become more inclusive, with the aim for it to be completely normalised for women to work within the construction industry.
Currently women make up 25% of the FPS ECG, this being a good indicator of change and that highlighting women in engineering and the associated industry push has been effective in promoting a career in this industry. It Is important that we continue to promote and highlight women in the work place, as this will give future generations of female engineering students mentors and role models to look up to, while also providing a sense of support and unity to women.
The Women in Engineering day for us is about highlighting opportunities that are available in Engineering regardless of race, religion or gender and we are actively ensuring everyone is provided with an opportunity. This begins with promoting STEM subjects from a young age, before they are influenced by ‘social norms’.
The recently established Ground Forum mentoring scheme has been formed to aid the progression of a more inclusive talent pool entering the industry. The scheme provides mentors and facilitates opportunities in order to assist their progression into an underrepresented industry.
A career in Engineering is not always just about hi-vis and hard-hats, which is the common misconception amongst young students – we want to move this approach on from such basic soundbites. Engineering allows individuals to utilise principals laid out in maths and physics in real world scenarios to solve problems. A career in engineering offers a varied and fulfilling workload, where often no two days are the same. By highlighting the various roles and showcasing the successful careers being developed, it goes someway to breaking those misconceptions to the younger generation and their parents.
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are important and go hand-in-hand. In a work environment, where there are employees of varying genders, cultures and socioeconomic status brings different ways of working and where individuals are more likely to feel empowered in being themselves and that you don’t have to change your approach in order to fit in.
Author – Julia Hill, Chair, FPS Early Careers Group (ECG)