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Engineers speak out in New Civil Engineer's sexism survey


A survey by New Civil Engineer released on National Women in Engineering Day found that 53% of respondents had heard sexist comments in their workplace in the past 12 months. Here are some of the responses.

equality logo

equality logo

The 10-question survey received 62 responses, 26 of respondents were female.

Roughly twice as many consultants responded than contractors.

Responses came in from all over the UK and abroad but most were from people based in London (23%), followed by the South East (15%) and Scotland (15%), as well as the South West (13%) and Overseas (13%).

Most respondents described attitudes towards gender equality in their workplace as ‘Very Good’ (38%), or ‘Good’ (34%), compared to ‘Okay’ (19.35%) or ‘Poor’ (8%).

When asked ‘Have you experienced sexist behaviour directly, at work?’ 55% answered ‘no’.

More than one in five respondents said gender was a barrier to their professional development.

“In general there have been comments, assumptions and the need to assert myself more than male colleagues to be noticed. Innuendo is fairly common,” one response read.



Women are still victims of sexist comments and tokenism

“I have observed women not being given the same credence or time to speak in meetings as equal male colleagues. I have heard an overly sexist comment suggesting someone has more to prove because they are a woman in construction,” another wrote.

New Civil Engineer asked “Are there women in leading senior roles in your company?” More than one in five responded ‘no’.

“In my team there are no females in senior management. Women with the same qualifications and more experience have been overlooked for promotions to Associate level when men have progressed,” one respondent said.

People of an older generation in particular who I meet for the first time just assume that I hold a lower level of seniority than my male counterparts

“Patronising comments are often made such as referring to me as a ’young girl’ (I am in my late twenties and have several years’ experience in the industry),” a respondent said. “I have found in my experience in a consultancy, female engineers are often given the more administrative roles in a project and are given less design experience.”

Another response: “It’s often subtle and comes in many forms. A simple example would be how often people of an older generation in particular who I meet for the first time just assume that I hold a lower level of seniority than my male counterparts.”

Many female respondents told of men in an office expecting women to take the minutes, or make tea and coffee.

Sexist comments

Complaints about sexism tended to surround topics of maternity leave, clothing, “humour”, drinking, socialising and networking opportunities. “I think ’banter’ or ’traditionalism’ are default excuses used to make sexism acceptable (to a degree) in a workplace,” one person said.

The comments ranged in severity, from unconscious bias to overt verbal assaults.

“The auditor looks up from checking his email and states “I hate women”. I am dumbfounded and didn’t say anything. I am in a room with three men (including the auditor) who are more senior than me,” one respondent said.

“[I was] told to ‘man up’ by female colleagues over a distressing incident,” said another.

Positive discrimination

The survey also received a complaints from male respondents about “positive discrimination”.

“Side-lined for a public presentation I was told that ‘it would look better to show that we have women in the company’. Woman parachuted in had very little knowledge of the project and was largely embarrassed that she couldn’t answer a large number of the public’s questions,” the respondent wrote.

Some said there was no sexism. Others commented that it might be a “reflection of wider society”.

One woman wrote of becoming “fatigued” on the subject, “I was getting tired of hearing about how great women are…”.

Another respondent warned not to patronise women through awards: “Don’t assume that a prize for best female is reinforcing – it actually carries the message that women are not good enough to compete with men.”

We need to publicly shed our unfortunately justly-earned stereotype of being a men’s club

Promisingly, when asked to add a comment to the survey, most people offered up potential ideas or solutions to change the work culture.

“While inside the industry isn’t perfect, it’s the supply side from schools and universities which is the top problem… We need to publicly shed our unfortunately justly-earned stereotype of being a men’s club, get more of the 8% on TV and film!” one person said.

“I think there is a lot of good talk about equality and diversity, however it’s about walking the walk. Employing more women is fantastic, but it’s the small comments and underlying attitude which needs addressing, not statistics and quotas,” another said.

Other solutions focused on making real changes to make the industry less male-centric.

“The structure of working hours/site mobility in the civil engineering sector is strongly against female progress in particular,” one person said.

“There have been general assumptions made that I will be less focused on the work as I am also a mother,” said a respondent.

“The discrimination comes from the developers’ culture in making planning applications and the way they choose to negotiate with other men. This is an aggressive male-dominated field and results in bad decisions that do not reflect the diversity of the community they are planning to build in,” said another.

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