The power of names in shaping inclusion
Having a Diversity and Inclusion policy is a solid step on the journey for becoming an organisation that celebrates and affirms everyone. But to ensure people within Cundall and our clients and visitors can see what this looks like, the spaces we inhabit as a company need to reflect, respect and celebrate people who are often neglected in Anglo-centric male-dominated histories.
Our Gender Affinity and Inclusion Network, GAIN, decided to address this through engaging staff in choosing names for our meeting rooms and board rooms that recognise important women, LGBTIQ persons and people of colour who have been influential or transformative in the sciences, social advocacy, or civil rights.
This both gives tangible form to our D&I policies and also ensures all staff feel that whatever gender, culture and discipline they identify with, Cundall deeply values people like them.
The process of canvassing staff for names was also an educational and capacity building activity, as the voting process included explaining why the proposed individuals were significant. In Australia, we aligned the survey with International Women’s Day, and in other offices we also correlated the process with significant awareness initiatives such as International Women in Engineering Day.
In addition to installing plaques with the names of the chosen individuals on the specific meeting and board room doors in Cundall offices including Edinburgh, Newcastle (UK), Sydney, Melbourne and Perth , QR codes are being added that when scanned with a smart phone, give the viewer some additional biographical history and a portrait of the person.
Meet the people we are celebrating
Board Room - Evelyn Scott (1935-2017)
Dr Evelyn Scott was an advocate for Reconciliation and the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and women for more than 30 years. She played a crucial role campaigning during the 1967 Constitutional Referendum. Her efforts were imperative and the results triumphant; the outcome was in favour for the inclusion of First Nations Peoples in the Australian national census. This shift acted as a springboard, giving the government leverage to build more inclusive and egalitarian laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Medium meeting room – Elizabeth Blackburn (1948 - )
Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Distinguished Professor Emerita Elizabeth Blackburn was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the molecular nature of telomeres – the ends of chromosomes which act as protective caps and help preserve genetic information. She was the first Australian woman Nobel Laureate. She has also received multiple other scientific accolades including the Lasker, Gruber and Gardiner prizes and in 2007 was named on TIME magazine’s TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
Small meeting room - Cecilia Payne (1900-1979)
The age-old question ‘what are stars made of?’ was answered in 1925 by astronomer and astrophysicist, Cecilia Payne. Her PhD thesis at Harvard explained how to decade to complex spectra images of starlight to ascertain the relative proportions of chemical elements in the stars. Thanks to her, we know hydrogen is the main component followed by helium. Her discoveries and expertise were eventually recognized with prizes and honours, culminating in a life-achievement lectureship from the American Astronomical Society.
Board Room - Ellison Harvie (18 May 1902 –27 September 1984)
Ellison Harvie was an Australian architect and an advocate for the professional development of women. In 1938, she became the first Australian woman to graduate with a Diploma of Architectural Design. Four years later she became the first woman to be elected to an Australian Architectural Institute council in 1942, as well as the first female Fellow of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1946. That same year, she became the first Australian woman to become a partner in a large firm.
Medium meeting room – Vida Goldstein (1869-1949)
Vita Goldstein was an Australian suffragist and social reformer who from an early age was involved in efforts to improve the rights and lives of women and children. In 1891 she helped collect signatures for the Monster petition for women’s suffrage, at the time the largest petition the Victorian government had ever received with 30,000 signatures gathered in just six weeks. As an adult she advocated for equal rights, equal pay, the appointment of women to various posts, a raising of the age of consent and the promotion of women's rights in general. She was one of four female candidates at the 1903 federal election, the first at which women were eligible to stand.
Small meeting room – Lidia Thorpe (1973 - )
Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe entered the Australian parliament in 2020 and is the first Aboriginal Senator from Victoria. Prior to entering Parliament, she has been actively engaged in lobbying and advocacy for Treaty and Aboriginal rights to self-determination and engagement in natural resource management decisions including forest protection. Thorpe has also worked in local government and was Chairperson of NAIDOC Victoria.
Boardroom - Margaret Feilman (21 June 1921 – 24 September 2013)
Margaret Feilman OBE was an Australian architect and Perth's first female town planner. She practiced as an architect and landscape designer, beginning her career as the first female Architectural cadet in WA when she was articled to the WA Public Works Department in 1937. Following completion of her university studies, she achieved registration with the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. Brief periods in Brisbane and Melbourne followed, before a British Council Scholarship enabled her to study town planning in the UK. Following this, she returned to WA in 1950, establishing the first town planning consultancy in the state.
…In Newcastle (UK)
Dorothy Buchanan (1899 – 1985)
Dorothy Buchanan was a Scottish civil engineer, and the first woman to gain qualification as such in Britain. She became the Institution of Civil Engineers’ first female chartered engineer, which she regarded as a highlight of her life. Buchanan was part of the team who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She later progressed to designing the steelwork for the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, which opened in 1928.
Alan Turing – (1912 – 1945)
Alan Turing was a British mathematician and computer scientist, perhaps best known for his cryptology work during World War II. He conceived a machine which envisioned “one machine for all possible tasks” — essentially computers as we know them today. Turing overcame persecution for his homosexuality, and his extensive work is now considered fundamental in the theoretical foundations of computer science and artificial intelligence.
Katharine Parsons – (1859 – 1933)
Lady Katharine Parsons was the co-founder of the Women’s Engineering Society. Parsons partnered with her husband Charles at his engineering works in Heaton, Newcastle, although much of the testing and experimental work on steam turbines took place in their home workshop. Parsons had a lasting impact on electrical engineering beyond her lifetime; the steam turbine was later employed in the generation of electricity and is still in use today in most of the world’s power stations.
Rachel Mary Parsons - (1885–1956)
Lady Katharine’s daughter, Rachel Mary Parsons, was the first president of the Women’s Engineering Society. Parsons studied Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University and worked primarily as a manufacturer of steam turbines, lighting, and munitions in Heaton, Newcastle. A strong advocate for women’s employment rights, Parsons and her mother were much involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and the recruitment, training, and welfare of female munitions workers during WWI.
Dr Sophia Jex-Blake - (1840 – 1912)
Dr Sophia Jex-Blake was the first practising female doctor in Scotland. A leading figure in the struggle for medical education for women, Jex-Blake faced hostility during her time at the University of Edinburgh, culminating in the Surgeons’ Hall riot in 1870, when over 200 men prevented women sitting an anatomy exam. Despite this, Jex-Blake qualified and went on to open a medical school for women, and a clinic which later became the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women.
George Stephenson - (1781 – 1848)
George Stephenson was a British civil and mechanical engineer. He worked in mines across North-East England, learning to read and write in his spare time. Stephenson constructed his first locomotive for hauling coal, and invented a safety lamp for miners, nicknamed the ‘Geordie’. He was later appointed engineer for the construction of the Stockton and Darlington railway, the first public steam railway in the world.
Fazlur Rahman Khan - (1929 – 1982)
Fazlur Rahman Khan was a Bangladeshi-American structural engineer and architect. He developed the tubular design principle for skyscrapers, allowing far taller buildings to be realised - but with significant savings in materials, thus reducing their cost and environmental impact. Khan is recognised as having made a significant contribution to modern structural engineering and urban design.
Helen Williamson (Jen Williamson’s mom)
Helen Williamson is an engineer, Scout leader and mom. She followed her passion early on in life by completing an HNC in Mechanical Engineering, where she was the only female out of a 150 intake! Despite this, she excelled, completing her apprenticeship with Rotork and continuing as their first female service engineer servicing valve actuators. At the young age of 20 and part sponsored by the army, Helen undertook a 3-month expedition to Pakistan with Operation Raleigh, where she helped build an orphanage.
She continues to inspire the younger generation through her role as a Scout leader.
Katherine Johnson (Aug 1918- Feb 2020)
Katherine Johnson, an African-American space scientist and mathematician, is a leading figure in American space history and made enormous contributions to America’s aeronautics and space programs by her incorporation of computing tools. Katherine had a remarkable knowledge of numbers and was one of the best brains in NASA during the space race. She played a huge role in calculating key trajectories, calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, as well as for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon.
Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid (31 October 1950 – 31 March 2016)
Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid was a British Iraqi architect, artist and designer, recognised as a major figure in architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Hadid studied mathematics as an undergraduate and then enrolled at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in 1972.
She was described by The Guardian as the "Queen of the curve", who "liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity". Her major works include the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics, the Broad Art Museum, Rome's MAXXI Museum, and the Guangzhou Opera House.
Hadid was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004.