ONE GREAT George Street was one of the most disheartening buildings she had visited, Claire Curtis-Thomas, MP for Crosby and a senator of the Engineering Council, told the audience at an Association of London Graduates and Students' debate last week.
Curtis-Thomas said of the ICE: 'This is one of the most depressing buildings I have ever had to enter. It is full of the legacy of one sex and one colour.'
The MP's comment came in reply to a question put to the meeting's panel as to whether positive discrimination was necessary to tackle the profession's gender imbalance. Curtis-Thomas said she was a firm believer in positive discrimination because men and women were born equal. But there was positive discrimination working in favour of men, meaning that women were 'playing catch up'.
Also on the panel at the ALGS millennium debate were ICE vice president Mark Whitby, ICE communications director Alan Smith, NCE editor Alastair McLellan and chairman of the Movement 4 Innovation and director of Christiani & Nielsen Alan Crane. Chairing the meeting was director of Halcrow Business Solutions Patrick Godfrey.
Godfrey said 'As an employer, I actively seek women because the performance we get from women is far superior. I don't believe positive discrimination is needed.'
The panel was also asked how it thought it was possible to bring more people into the profession given the fact that there was now such a shortfall that civil engineers were being brought in from abroad.
McLellan asserted that the only way was to pay civil engineers more. 'The Institution needs to play a much, much larger role in the issue of salaries,' said McLellan. 'It is the number one concern of its members.'
Crane said he did not think pay was the whole issue. 'My company has changed its pay structure for graduates but it has not made a difference to retention,' claimed Crane. 'It is a question of culture. In Denmark, the public have a much greater respect for the built environment and how much civil engineers contribute to society.'
Whitby said graduates were not poorly paid. Quoting statistics from a recent Department for Education and Employment survey, he added: 'Engineers scored the highest salaries. Chemical engineering was found to be the only profession where men and women were paid equally.' He said the ICE needed to attract more and better people into the profession.
Smith took up the point, saying that more needed to be done to inform school children about the profession. 'We've got to go out and talk to the 14-18 year old group which is something all our members can do.'
Comments from the audience on the pay issue were mixed. 'The ICE is missing a huge amount of engineers who are training without agreement,' insisted one member. 'There is little help from the ICE. There are a lot of people out there who are thinking 'stuff civil engineering - I'll go off and manage Tesco because I'll get paid a lot more.' ' Other audience members disagreed. One member said: 'I don't think you will find many people who want higher salaries as civil engineers. There is a tendency to slip into a blame culture. We need to understand what we are worth and put that forward to the public to promote ourselves.'
The idea of self promotion received a mixed response. One member said: 'Civil engineers need to be a happy workforce themselves before they can spread the 'happy word'.'