Reflection on our Inspiring Women’s Day

It’s a wonderful thing to work for a company that is entirely committed to creating a pathway to equality, diversity and inclusivity both within the business and its community. And, when I say entirely, I mean this promise has been made from the very top with our Chief Executive, right through the company.

International Women’s Day was an opportunity for us to look at particularly gender imbalance. Why is it that the UK has some of the lowest numbers of female Engineers in Europe? Yet, there is evidence to show that a more diverse workforce can lead to enhanced business performance and greater staff wellbeing. The empowerment of women also takes the pressure off men. They no-longer have to be the sole breadwinners, supporting their families on the majority salary. This fairer balance can help reduce stress and lead to better mental health – an important consideration when male suicide remains disproportionately high.

It is also no surprise that for improved problem solving and broader thinking, you need a diverse workforce of people who think differently. But, as an industry, we face a challenge in recruiting from this wider net. One solution to improve this is to work with schools and universities to show young people how rewarding a career in the construction industry is.

In March, we collaborated with Commonwealth boxer, stereotype abolisher and general inspiration, Stacey Copeland on an Inspiring Women’s Day that gathered together industry professionals from Morgan Sindall, Ryder Architects, Autotrader and Weightmans lawyers. It’s no coincidence that these are all, or once were, male dominated industries. They stood in front of 100 year 9 young women from Manchester, on the brink of picking their GCSE options and beginning their careers, to show the potential generation of Civil Engineers, Barristers and technology whizzes that our industries need them, because we do.

First off, Nathan Dyke from Autotrader told the girls about the desperate skills shortage in the automotive industry. Like many businesses, they are seeing the Generation z, who should be entering their workplaces now, being syphoned off as Youtubers, social media marketers and IT specialists. Not surprisingly then, less than 10% of the room put their hands up to say they are considering a career in the automotive industry. For this to change, young women need to be able to see themselves in roles to believe it’s for them. They, as the most socially and ethically defined generation, also need to believe that diversity and inclusivity is high on the company’s agenda.

The Inspiring Women’s Day workshops harnessed and demonstrated this attitude with a number of female role models and hands-on activities.

Our Structural Engineer and STEM Ambassador, Niamh McCloskey delivered a brilliant presentation about the joys of working as an Engineer, but also some of the stigma and discrimination that she has had to rise above. Is it right that she should have to defend her expertise on-site just because of her gender? Her career highlights included designing buildings that people are taking pictures of for Instagram or printing to put on walls in their own homes. She’s making a mark on the landscape that few others are. It was humbling to see Niamh inspire the young women in the room to consider a career in this rewarding specialism.

Of all the tools we used during the day to inspire the students, the most effective were the female role models, as speakers and in portrait photography. These powerfully enabled the girls to imagine themselves in the role through a shared identity.

Aside from this, the main takeaway for the girls was to be their own biggest ambassador. This message naturally seemed to resonate from all the speakers and is perhaps something we can all live by.

But one thing that is absolutely critical, and that’s to make sure that when these young women enter the workplace, they enter one that is fair, diverse and inclusive. It’s all very well inspiring them to want to pursue such careers, but once they achieve that goal will they feel valued, recognised and fulfilled?

Perhaps gender balance in the workplace faces one last, undeniable obstacle. How do we enable employees to have children, raise a family and still pursue a career if they wish? At Curtins, we ensure that our parental policies are supportive of both mothers and fathers wishing to take extended leave, flexible hours and a phased return to work.