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Sometimes, it's hard to be an engineer...

Women in Engineering By Tomás Neeson, Chairman and Partner, Building Services – 22 June 2017

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Tomas Neeson in office reception with wooden panelling and green wall background

Tomás Neeson

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There are nine justices on the United States’ Supreme Court. Ruth Ginsberg was the second woman to perform this role. I recently read the following quote from Ruth:

“...When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court? When there are nine. There’s been nine men, like forever, and nobody’s ever raised their eyebrows at that.”

Having built my own career over the last 30+ years in an industry where women continue to make up an embarrassingly small percentage of the workforce, this really resonated with me.

Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with some incredibly talented people of different genders, ages, ethnicities and professional backgrounds. As my own career has developed, I’ve become increasingly interested in what makes us successful as a business, and as an industry, and more convinced that it is only by attracting and nurturing a diverse range of high calibre talent that we will continue to thrive as a business and make the best contribution that we can to the communities in which we operate. This is why we are concerned with global developments which may restrict the movement of people, as this could limit the ability of the best global talent to work in Cundall.

The construction and engineering sector has a huge amount going for it – we get to contribute to the design and construction of some incredible buildings, many of which benefit not only the individuals who use the buildings today, but society as a whole, and which can, with our input, have a positive impact on the planet that we all share.

During my career, I’ve worked on educational buildings which provide a place for young people to learn, hospitals to treat the sick, airport buildings which allow people to travel and experience the world and practically all other building types.

A career as an engineer is rewarding, but there is no doubt that it is challenging. I’ve dealt with demanding clients, difficult contractors and engineering problems which need resolving, sometimes against a backdrop of project completions in jeopardy and the threat of associated cost consequences, to name just a few. But I’ve never had to justify myself on account of my gender.

When I compare my own experiences with those of some of my female colleagues in the industry, I can only imagine how much more difficult this job might be for women. I’ve never been judged for how I look, or what I wear, or told that I shouldn’t go for a few beers with “the boys”. I’ve never been held back from progressing because of my gender or, worse, told that my achievements have been fast-tracked just so that a business can improve its diversity statistics. What success I have had has generally been acknowledged to be on the basis of my abilities as an engineer and as a leader.

In a world where young women are still discouraged from studying “difficult” subjects like maths and science, where they are told that it’s not “feminine” to get dirty, or that exhibiting leadership skills makes them “bossy”, we all need to do more to encourage women to bring their time, energy and talent to bear on improving our built environment.

As individuals, as a business, as an industry and as a society, we need to think creatively about how we can do this, and how we can overcome barriers – real or perceived – to inspiring, attracting, recruiting and retaining our fair share of the world’s incredibly talented women. We’re doing our bit at Cundall, with ongoing analysis of our gender pay gap and the reasons for this, a forthcoming programme of “unconscious bias” training, and extensive work with schools to encourage young women to consider careers in our industry. But there is more we can do, and we must.

If we don’t, we’re missing out on a huge pool of talent. No-one benefits from that.