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Engineers wary of boardroom gender quotas

Boardroom diversity quotas are still an unpopular idea among both women and men in civil engineering, it emerged yesterday at a meeting of Arup’s Connect Women group, supported by NCE.

The NCE/Arup Diversity in the Boardroom event brought together leading civil engineers to discuss why women are under-represented in boardrooms, and how change can be effected. Former Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) chairman Michelle McDowell, Arup group legal director Jenny Baster and executive headhunter Odgers Berndtson chairman of board practice Virginia Bottomley led the discussion.

Views of enforced quotas were very mixed among the speakers and audience. Although the success of quotas in Norway — where boardrooms must, by law, be at least 40% female — was acknowledged, it was widely felt that quotas put extra pressure on female board members to prove themselves, and that diversity for the sake of meeting targets would not necessarily produce a genuine change in attitudes.

However, other attendees argued that engineers would respond well to quotas because they tend to respond well to working with quantitatively measured goals. It was also suggested that engineering firms should adopt and enforce their own quotas that were realistic for them, rather than supporting a blanket national quota across all sectors.

  • Former CBI president Dame Helen Alexander will lead a further discussion on women in the boardroom at the NCE Infrastructure Show on 18 October.


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