Thames Tideway bosses want 50% of the staff on the £4.1bn tunnel project to be women by the time the project is completed in 2023.
“The Tideway completes in 2023. Why shouldn’t we be after [gender] parity by the time we complete the job?” said incoming Tideway Tunnel chief executive Andy Mitchell.
“Our business case is to build the most efficient tunnel possible. For us to do that we need to be the best company possible.
“There are many parts to that, but one of those is gender equality. And if we are serious about the ultimate goal, we have to be serious about this,” he said.
“So I’m not up for a 10%, 20% or 30% improvement; I’m up for starting the conversation with parity.”
Mitchell was speaking at a round table debate at the ICE on the inaugural National Women in Engineering Day. The debate was set up as an opportunity to discuss barriers to the entry of women into the construction industry. It was also a chance to see how the project’s newly launched Women’s Forum could be used to tackle them.
Mitchell’s team will next year move from Thames Water to a new, independent special purpose vehicle company being set up to deliver the project. He said he was determined to use it as a means to radically challenge convention and remove many of the barriers to women entering the industry and progressing within it.
“We are going to be creating a new company and we can re-write the rules,” he said.
Mitchell’s 50% commitment is similar to that of Transport for London, which is aiming for a 51% female workforce. Bechtel global rail managing director Ailie
Macadam said she supported Mitchell’s ambition. Macadam is one of the UK’s most senior female engineers and until recently worked for Bechtel as project director on Crossrail.
“It’s a great target to aim for,” she said. “It’s definitely laudable, it’s definitely possible, it’s just a question of whether nine years is long enough to do it,” she said.
Macadam cited the Vauxhall Underground Station Upgrade project as an example of what is already achievable. There more than 35% of the engineers from
Bechtel and London Underground are women.
“It is about creating an environment where you can thrive on who you are and what you can offer, regardless of whether you are a woman or a man,” she said.
Mitchell, Dalton: Yes we’re feminists
Chief executives of Thames Tideway Tunnel and the Highways Agency have raised the profile of the gender equality debate by joining a select band of industry leaders to declare themselves feminists.
Thames Tideway Tunnel chief executive Andy Mitchell said he was “firmly in the feminist camp” ahead of his organisation’s round table debate on National Women in Engineering Day on Monday.
And Highways Agency boss Graham Dalton told NCE that he too was happy to declare himself a feminist.
Last Monday, Dalton was set to host a seminar for 70 roads industry leaders in which he planned to challenge them to do more to tackle the under-representation of women in highways.
“We are taking some time out with our key suppliers to say this stuff matters,” said Dalton.
And Dalton stressed his motivation was more than simply the need to fill a looming skills gap coinciding with record levels of investment in highways.
“Our suppliers have boards of directors, and their number one objective is delivering value for their shareholders. Their next objective is to be a sustainable business. And a business that doesn’t reflect the society it operates in becomes unsustainable as it slowly loses touch,” he said.
Dalton said the session will focus on attracting, retaining and promoting women within the highways sector, but with a focus on retention and promotion.
“We’ll be looking at how we get women into more senior roles; which might mean we are not currently defining the roles correctly,” he said.
“It is about having the right sort of cultures and behaviours,” he said, adding that the Agency has the power to influence those behaviours through its supplier assessment tools.
“As a client we punch well above our weight on issues like low carbon, cost efficiency and safety. So when we stand up and say this is important, and make it clear we are going to award a better score to firms who are looking to employ a broad group of people, then they will scrabble round and respond,” he said.
Dalton made it clear that feminism - the advocacy of equal opportunities of women - was something to be embraced. “I’ve got three daughters and it doesn’t enter any of their heads that there should be any restriction on what they could or should do based on their gender. So am I a feminist? Yes I probably am.”
Dalton and Mitchell’s comments came a week after Atkins chief executive David Tonkin and Bullivant director John Patch made the same commitment (NCE last week).