Editor's comment | Putting female role models in the spotlight – New Civil Engineer

23 Mar, 2022 By Claire Smith
Gender balance in civil engineering has been on my mind this month for a number of reasons but before explaining why, it is critical to understand why it is important. 
Currently, just 13% of civil engineers in the UK are women, meaning that there is a whole untapped
resource in society that we are just not attracting. Getting to gender balance could be key to addressing the skills shortages that have dogged the sector for decades – and which, from recent conversations, seem to be more acute than ever.
A shortage of female role models has long been cited as one of the barriers to getting more young women to consider careers in construction. But these role models are coming through. I hosted a round table event in March where all the guests were chairs or chief executives and half of those were women. The difference compared to how such an event might have looked a decade ago was that the list of attendees was not contrived to achieve that – there are more women in senior roles. 
One of NCE’s roles is to make sure that these female role models are visible, which is why we joined forces with the BBC for its 50:50 project a few years ago. Media outlets signed up to the project must track the number of women featured in their content and challenge themselves increase the proportion to 50% to represent the gender balance in society. 
While some women do hold lead roles in the sector, they will often defer to a male colleague when it comes to fielding interview questions or presenting at one of our events
As the civil engineering workforce is only 13% women, NCE’s content does not yet hit the 50:50 mark – we are usually at 25% to 35%. But this month is the BBC’s challenge month where we really strive to hit the target. I would like to tell you that we have achieved that, but the truth is that we have just missed it as women account for only 47% of those interviewed in this issue.
One of the challenges is that while some women do hold lead roles in the sector, they will often defer to a male colleague when it comes to fielding interview questions or presenting at one of our events. I understand that not everyone wants to be in the spotlight or speak out, but what if that lack of confidence is hindering those women from achieving their full potential in other parts of their careers?
Ensuring women have the right support is why I am delighted that NCE is joining forces with Construction News to launch the Inspiring Women in Construction & Engineering programme. The initiative will have a mentoring focus this year and builds on NCE’s Recognising Women in Engineering Awards and Construction News’ Inspiring Women programme of workshops, conferences and webinars, both launched in 2018.
The two publications will now work together with a mission to provide networking opportunities and other resources which help women make career progress. They will also seek to help companies in the sector become better employers for women.
Construction News created the Inspiring Women Pledge in June 2020 as a way of driving employers to improve their offer. This is a voluntary code of practice that companies can adopt to signal their support for women in the industry. NCE will now adopt the pledge and work with Construction News to sign up firms to it.
The events for employees will kick off with a free webinar at 11am on 29 March. It will cover what good mentorship looks like and how to make the most of it. The focus is on mentoring for women, but this event – and the ones that follow – are for everyone in the industry, not just women. We all have a role to play in solving the skills crisis and creating a diverse workforce – supporting women is part of that.
You can come and join the conversation on mentoring by signing up for the webinar at bit.ly/NCEinspire Details of the other events and the awards event will be announced soon.
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