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Gender Balance Initiative

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Role Models

Evidence tells us time and time again that it is important to provide role models in order to demonstrate to women that it is possible to achieve career success. The following are all highly successful women in the world of major projects. Their journeys, barriers and support systems have all been different and they all demonstrate that success is achievable.

If you are a successful woman in major projects or you know of one who you believe should feature on this page please contact Manon Bradley via mpa@majorprojects.org

   Sue Kershaw, UK Infrastructure Head of Project and Programme Management, KPMG

My parents inspired me to pursue a career in engineering. My Dad, who was a dam builder, took me around the world during his career, which really piqued my interest in the opportunities in the engineering sector. My mum was also really supportive and always wanted me and my sisters to pursue vocational degrees - it just so happened that I was already considering a career in engineering.

I do feel that attitudes to my gender have affected my career. In my early career I went out of my way to fit in with my male colleagues. Looking back on this, it was a way to seek acceptance and build relationships with my male counterparts. However, I think the young women coming into engineering now are much more upfront and confident. In order to encourage more women to pursue a career in engineering, industry really need to engage them whilst they are young. And this applies to both boys and girls. Currently there is a gap in communication between industry and the education system whereby too few young people are shown the opportunities and careers that engineering and project management can open up. To get more people to pursue careers in the sector we need to start reaching out at a much younger age and inspire them. I was brought up on construction sites and loved the pioneering values and ‘can do’ attitudes of the people who worked on them as well as the camaraderie of those who were working together on projects. There is a great sense of achievement in creating something - a dam, a motorway or railway line - that benefits the community and country it serves. We need to portray this more clearly to those considering becoming an engineer or project Manager as it is great to be part of building a tangible legacy.

The Institution of Civil Engineers, the Construction Youth Trust, the Women’s Transportation Seminar, and WISE are all working hard to attract more women into engineering and are making major progress. The Davies Report, published in February 2011, highlighted the gender imbalance on company boards and has been instrumental in making a change at the very top of companies to get more successful women into senior positions. We can see first-hand the number of women that are now in the top jobs in business.

I have always been treated very fairly and have had some really insightful, supportive bosses and mentors. I think the one major obstacle to women staying in the industry is childcare, which is not an industry specific issue. However, with childcare duties being more equally shared between the parents and remote working becoming more commonplace, I hope we will see this issue improve in the future.

   Sally Bridgeland, A round peg!, Square hole!

My headmaster broke the news to my parents when I was at primary school that their little girl was really rather good at maths. They made huge sacrifices to send me to a better (all-girl) school which nurtured my talent. Their investment paid off.

Armed with a first class maths degree I went on to qualify as an actuary, lead consultancy projects and investment research at a time of huge change in the financial world. As CEO of BP’s UK pension fund I was the first part-time group leader at BP plc. Today, aged 50, I have a wonderful portfolio of non-executive roles with great organisations and time to devote to my family and voluntary activities. Next year I hope to become the first lady Master of the Worshipful Company of Actuaries. How did that happen to a girl?

The support of men in positions of authority and the unconditional love from my family have been vital throughout my journey. When my own confidence has wavered and I have felt unwelcome or out of place, they have been my sources of strength. Patience has not always been one of my virtues and my perception about how people have treated me has been a source of stress.

As an actuarial consultant I was driven by the desire for good teamwork and excellent client relationships. I was always looking for ways to make things better: use of technology, communication, risk management. This was not popular. Experts and promotions were made on the basis of superior knowledge and fee earnings. I always had a different view of what good looked like. Looking back, it’s what makes me a good non-executive today. At the time it was frustrating and I ended up trying to do both what I thought was best and what was expected of me.

A near-death accident helped me get my priorities back on track. Ten years of unsuccessful IVF had taken their toll. With the help two contrasting medical men at the top of their field, Colin was born. I still can’t believe it. My desire to make the most of this opportunity gave me the courage to work three days a week. It suits me and means I have to make every minute count.

I don’t recommend falling off a cliff. My top tips for women in a man’s world would be:
• See the man’s perspective. If he has always lived in a man-and-boy-only world, he honestly won’t know what he doesn’t know. Help him discover, gently.
• Every day, think “just for today, don't try to do everything (alone)”. Successful women feel that they constantly have to prove themselves. This can be very “scary” for the men around them and bad for teamwork.
• Be yourself. Be vulnerable, show your insecurities, ask for help and show men that they can do the same too. It will make work and business more resilient.

I believe the saying “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re probably right”. Think “I can”. And keep smiling, it’s infectious.

   Joan Murray, Managing Director, TPS Schal, Carillion plc

“Why should boys have all the fun?”

Successful Managing Director Joan Murray encourages women to make engineering a career choice.

Engineering is an exciting and challenging career as well as providing a wide range of opportunities for anyone.

Engineers are creative people, whether they work in the built environment or in an aeronautical design company or a biochemical engineering process plant. The work is solutions led – so it’s usually about developing and solving the answers to challenging questions.

Girls as we know, have the ability to tackle the difficult STEM subjects (science technology, engineering and maths) so we just need to show them what a fantastic career they can have if choose to study those subjects at both A-level and University.

Boosting skills in technology and engineering will be essential if the UK is to truly thrive in the 21st century global economy.

Joan has worked for Carillion for the last 20 years in various roles on a variety of construction projects. She joined Carillion as graduate civil engineer and through their training and development programme moved from delivering in a technical role, into a management role and is now the Managing Director of the TPS Schal business within the organisation. Joan is the first female MD in Carillion.

TPS Schal is the consultancy arm of the Group providing all construction related professional services and engineering design to the market place.
Joan attended Laurel Hill Secondary School based in Limerick, Ireland which encouraged girls to study STEM subjects which gave her the freedom to follow paths which were not the traditional female career options.

Joan says: “The leaning experience should teach girls that they too can have the fun jobs and the serious jobs and the jobs in the board room. Nothing should prevent girls from becoming engineers if they want to do so - because why should the boys have all the fun?”

Joan went on to study civil engineering at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland due to always wanting to be involved in something that would make a contribution to society.

Engineers make this contribution on a daily basis through the creation of new buildings and structures, which leave their mark on the landscape. Joan states the creative process is always challenging and never dull and no two days are ever the same in this profession which is why she is still in the sector 20 years on.

Traditionally, engineering has been a career chosen by boys. The work is interesting, varied, challenging and enjoyable and engineers get involved in the most exciting projects whether it’s Crossrail or Building Schools for the Future – each commission is unique, where different skills apply and different solutions are created.

Engineers start their careers in technical roles developing design solutions, then as they progress over time they take up managerial positions in companies. Training as engineer leads them to naturally become ideal candidates for prospective managers and directors of businesses.

At Carillion plc, Richard Howson, the CEO himself, is a civil engineer. What better inspiration to encourage anyone who is considering their future, that the opportunity for career progression is limitless when you train as an engineer.

There is resource shortage in the UK today, a shortage of suitable candidates with good qualifications in STEM subjects. To enable the UK to continue to compete in the global market economy more engineers are required.

This is why it is so important that women choose to go into engineering, because without their representation in this area, we are reducing the talent pool available from which the UK can choose its future workforce.

Joan Says: “All my life I have been part of a workforce where less than 10% of the population are female. Being part of a minority brings its own set of unique challenges and so requires innovative ways to deal with them.”

We need to make the most of all of the potential talents available to give the businesses of tomorrow the workforce they need to compete in the global race.

Carillion offers great opportunities and is a very inclusive as well as diverse organisation, enabling everyone to reach their best potential throughout each stage of their working life.

   Sarah Lipscomb, Partner, Arcadis

Throughout my career I have sought out women performing at the top of their field, inspiring women who role model the behaviours and commitment to the job that have got them into senior roles within the business. Constantly analysing what these women achieved and how they have done it, has provided me with a sense of the kind of sacrifices they may have had to make, or even, if they have had to make sacrifices at all.

The reason for this is as I compare their career paths to my own, I realise I really have had to make a lot of sacrifices over the years and I wonder where the line is, and what I would advise others following in my footsteps.

Starting out in retail management on the sales floor, albeit working for some of the top UK retailers, isn’t the normal entry to a career in built asset consultancy. I was provided with opportunities to work on projects and with the support and guidance of someone that saw my potential I flourished, a reoccurring theme throughout the next 10 years.

There have been many times when I have had to choose between my job and my life. To be honest most of the time they have been one and the same, but I am passionate about what I do. I thrive off achieving my work goals and this is what has driven me forward each time I have had self-doubt, each time I have wondered if this job is really suitable for a woman who wants to have a family as well, each time I have worried that the role may be too much of a big step and each time I have felt guilt wash over me for not being at home with my children.

I know that I am now one of those women who is inspiring others, I have managed to juggle a fabulous career travelling around the world running global programmes, leading large multi skilled teams, delivering really successful projects and working with great clients. I moved from Project Manager to Senior to Associate to Partner in as little as 7 years, during which time I also took two years out to have my babies. It’s tough, don’t get me wrong and I have had wonderful support from my family, friends and colleagues, which has made all the difference, but I have a determination to make it work, I have a passion for my chosen subject, I genuinely want to be a role model for my children and I have a strong view that what I am doing is ultimately positive for me and my family.

It is with that thought that I realise, yes, I have had to make sacrifices, but they have been worth it and I put it down to the fact that I have worked hard, I have kept a sense of fun and enjoyed what I do. Most importantly I have found people, both men and women, along the way that not only inspired me, but gave me practical advice on how to make my own aspirations a reality, and who have really believed in me, sometimes when I didn’t believe in myself.