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INWED 2024: Making engineering more inclusive

International Women in Engineering Day By Lucy May, Head of Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Culture – 19 June 2024

Top left to right: Preeti Rai, Senior Engineer, Marta Hergueta Ortega.

Bottom left to right: Principal Engineer, Alison Horton, Associate, Katie Roberts, Senior Consultant.

Collage of four female Cundall employees


Lucy May in a black top standing in the london office with planting and desks behind her

Lucy May

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Alison smiling to camera in a green striped long sleeve top in front of a wooden trellis and plant

Alison Horton

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International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) takes place on 23 June each year. It is a chance to celebrate the amazing work being done by female engineers around the world.

We have spoken to Preeti Rai, Senior Engineer, Dubai, Marta Hergueta Ortega, Principal Engineer, Madrid, Alison Horton, Associate, Birmingham and Katie Roberts, Senior Consultant, London. They touch on what the engineering industry can do to encourage women into engineering and the importance of diversity in engineering teams.

What can the engineering industry do to encourage women to pursue careers within the field?

Preeti: It all stems from the start. I was fortunate as a child to have family members around me that studied various STEM subjects at university, so that exposure helped me choose the path that I wanted. But not everybody can find these things from the people and environment around them. Better engagement with children when they are younger exposes them to the industry and allows them to figure out their interests. As little as just seeing a professional in the field and explaining what you do is enough to start a conversation and potentially carve a path for a budding engineer in the making.

Marta: In my opinion, everyone is free to study and dedicate their life to whatever they decide. It will be good to show teenagers the work they are expecting to do if they study engineering. Visits for these students who want to know more about what “studying engineering” will mean for their professional life.

Katie: It's important to create a supportive, learning environment and recognise that everyone is on their own path and learning journey. There are various avenues and roles within the engineering world. Greater exposure to these different roles can help inspire other women by showcasing the diverse opportunities available.

Alison: I think a lot of it comes down to visibility and education. As a STEM Ambassador I go into schools and teach young people about what I do; it’s not a career people necessarily know a lot about. So firstly, it’s about educating, students, carers, teachers and parents on what the available options are and then secondly, it's about being a role model, having women visible in the work force and trying to explain to young people that there is no reason why this career cannot be attainable to all.

Can you share a memorable experience or project from your career that highlights the importance of diversity in engineering teams?

Preeti: When I moved to Dubai with Cundall I felt like I had to start learning all over again. This can be overwhelming when you have got so used to the codes, standards and software’s that were used every day for almost four years back home in England. Over time I improved my knowledge of local standards, building materials and software but I never felt l learned enough. Being in an office like Dubai where there are so many cultures along with work sharing with other offices has introduced me to new methods of working and being able to learn more from colleagues that have a diverse working background. They bring such a wealth of knowledge which is important to making the team the best it can be.

Marta: In engineering, most of the time there is not only one single valid solution. This is why it is so important to have a multidisciplinary team, with diverse ways to interpret and solve designs. Diversity is key, bringing people from different countries, interests, and personalities.

Katie: Part of my role involves applying the WELL (WELL Building Standard) Building Standard to projects. This has broadened my perspective on the importance of considering different groups of people within a building, such as new parents, and ensuring a supportive environment when they return to work using parenting rooms.

Alison: Since working at Cundall I have been involved in some IPI projects. These projects work under an alliance contract that means the work is extremely collaborative and risk and opportunities are shared amongst the design teams. These projects typically have a heavy reliance on picking the right people for the job. Picking those with the right sort of attitude and collaborative nature/good teamworking skills. I have noticed that this has typically led to a more diverse team being put forward and winning the work. As the selection is focused on getting people with the right skills and behaviours, this means the teams naturally become more balanced and diverse.

What changes do you hope to see in the future regarding gender equality and representation in engineering?

Preeti: Over time I hope more women do enter the engineering field. I do not believe that women should be employed based on gender to fill a gap, but people should be employed based on merit and the skills they would bring to the team. From experience, I noted that there was a gender gap at university so I believe that early engagement within schools (before children start narrowing down subject choices) should be practiced as it seems to me that the problem lies earlier on in life.

Marta: I hope people study what they want, no matter gender, and there is a point in the future where we do not have to talk more about “gender equality” because that means, we have achieved gender equality naturally.

Katie: I hope to see greater representation of women in the industry, especially in senior leadership positions. This would inspire me and others, showing that career progression is not limited by gender.

Alison: I think one way we can establish more equality is by making shared parental leave the norm for all parties. Career gaps and pay differences often occur and relate to parental leave. If it was normalised and made financially affordable for both parties to take parental leave, this would remove some of the issues that occur as a result.

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