By Emma MacLeod, Associate Director
6th February 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, the legislation that enabled all men and some women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time and paved the way for universal suffrage 10 years later, Emma Macleod, Associate Director at Hurley Palmer Flatt, informs us.
It is also the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which permitted women over the age of 21 (the same age as for men) to stand for election as an MP (November), and women have been represented in the House of Lords for 60 years.
Now, in 2018, we can see women represented across all sectors. It may not be 50/50 but only the course of time will allow us to achieve a true equilibrium.
Women in the Construction Industry is such a hot topic just now and with Women in Engineering Day taking place recently (23 June 2018), it presented an ideal opportunity to take a step back and reflect. As a female engineer, I count myself so fortunate, over the course of my career, to have worked alongside colleagues and industry peers and never felt any personal barriers. In fact, it is only with recent media coverage that I have realised how passionate some people are about this subject and feel that there needs to be a change.
When I consider my own experience in the industry, I have worked with relatively few females. Those I have worked with tended to work in other areas, away from engineering, such as architecture and interior design. Our office in Glasgow is probably something of an exception to the norm, with 33% of the engineers being female – and has been that way for around five years. Compare this to 11% of females across engineering, according to a 2017 survey by the Women’s Engineering Society. The obvious question that springs to mind is ‘Why?’ Possibly it is the culture within the office, the opportunities available to all and the collaboration across the office, creating a sense of equality. This question was one of many considered by Kaela Fenn-Smith when she spoke at our recent staff conference, following on from the insightful presentation at the BCO Conference in May. She discussed her career and the challenges she faced leading a team and ensuring that everyone was equal and had a voice. Our working life is a major part of our existence, why shouldn’t we set the bar high? Time spent working is time away from our families. For companies to ask the best of their employees they need to provide a good working environment that promotes a work/life balance and makes it easier to say goodbye to our loved ones each morning.
I think there are two great things about encouraging women into engineering. Firstly, it helps to address the skills shortage that exists in the industry and, secondly, it lets individuals know about the great opportunities that exist for them. I do, however, think that we need to approach this subject and movement to equality with caution. It can’t be seen to be a box-ticking exercise. Kaela quoted Vanessa Myers, who delivered a TED Talk on overcoming bias: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.’ Being seen to be diverse is not enough. To have any worth, companies need to take this a step further, create opportunities for their staff and allow unconscious bias to be overcome.
In the race to promote women in engineering, there is one aspect we must not forget; men in engineering. We can’t allow ourselves to push the equality agenda into the boundaries of inequality. As mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of promoting women in engineering is to increase and expand the skillset. Keeping that in mind, companies need to ensure they employ the right people for the right reasons and not just to meet targets. Men need to be involved in this shift and are not to be left behind. The aim is equality in the true sense of the word and improving working life for everyone.
The ultimate goal is that there should be less need for Women in Engineering societies as we will all just be Engineers.