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What made you choose the construction industry? 

When I was at school, my favourite subjects were mathematics and physics. One of my teachers suggested that I might enjoy studying engineering, so I investigated the different disciplines and visited University open days. I was amazed to learn how civil engineering shapes our ever-changing world which inspired me to the point of deciding to pursue a degree in this area. Following graduation, I have been fortunate enough to work with incredible teams on a range of amazing projects – from windfarms and flood defences to highways and bridges – and these experiences have truly “cemented” the idea that this was the perfect career choice for me.

What are the particular challenges that women have to overcome in the industry?

As a fresh graduate at 21 years old, I was naïve to the severe lack of representation of women on site. I had been in a class of around 30% women, but only 2 of those women (including me) chose site-based graduate roles over working in design offices, and the workplace reflected this statistic.

Construction sites can be intimidating. As a woman in the construction industry, you will more than likely have found yourself to be the only woman on site, the only woman in a meeting etc. and it is not unusual to feel excluded in this environment. 

Some of my own experiences might further illustrate this point:

-    PPE (Personal Protective Equipment): I have been on many sites and initially offered ill-fitting PPE. Men’s size small. I am not a small man; my body is not shaped the same as a small man. This gesture immediately conveys an impression that this environment is not ready for a woman. 
-    Implied “Special Treatment”: It is commonplace to be accused of getting onto certain projects or promotions due to being a woman, as opposed to being good at my job. Imposter Syndrome is real and rife. I have had to defend my position on more than one occasion.

How do you think this sector will evolve in terms of the employment of women? What roles will they be required to take on given how the industry will evolve over the next few years? 

Society is evolving as a whole – it is less surprising to see successful women in male-dominated industries, and the construction industry is following this progressive pattern. I feel very lucky to have always had colleagues that are keen to discuss how to ensure that minorities feel as comfortable as possible. The more we discuss these topics, the more we can all learn how to be more inclusive of one another.

We must firstly increase the number of women entering the construction industry, and then we must ensure retention and progression of them in their careers. Arts subjects are deemed more feminine and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects more masculine. Globally there is still an ideology that assumes men are more technically-gifted than women.
Being able to envisage yourself in a future career role is key for progression, so having role models that you can identify with in professional and managerial positions within the construction industry is important. Girls in school need to see engineering students and professionals that represent them from an early age. Challenging the gender stereotypes that perpetuate the industry will increase the rate of change, especially if men take part as well.

The gender pay gap is not anywhere near closed, but now it is compulsory for companies to publish their statistics on this. Women comprise half the population of the world – when this is not reflected in the workplace, sectors miss out on much-needed talent and innovation.

I am very proud to work for VSL, who are continuously looking to improve on diversity and inclusion. I hope to be the role model that I needed as a young person, and work with my colleagues to welcome a more diverse generation of civil engineers in the future.

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Contact : Jacqueline CARRIGAN
Senior Civil Works Engineer at VSL UK
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