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Letters: Dinosaurs still roam our industry

Many thanks for publishing Richard Power’s letter (NCE 5 March). I assume it isn’t a fictitious letter, designed to provoke a response. While some of your readers may be incensed, Power demonstrates why feminism is still essential in our industry.

He suggests that “different” is the same as “unequal” in this context. He is correct that a woman is not the same as a man. Every human is unique and not the same as any other. Would he suggest that because a young, athletic graduate is “different” to a middle aged, less fit but highly experienced chartered engineer, the younger person is more or less suited to work in civil engineering? Are all civil engineers the same?

Could Mr Power clarify which attributes required of a civil engineer are lacking in the women who choose to be civil engineers? Because not all women would make effective civil engineers, is it an unsuitable profession for all women? Do all men have the attributes required to be a civil engineer?

Organisations which employ people who have greater differences (commonly referred to as diversity, for those who have problems with definitions) have been demonstrated to be more successful.

Feminism, as most people know, is about equality of rights and opportunities. Some women make excellent civil engineers; some men make excellent civil engineers; but not all. Vive la difference!

  • Andria Gilmour,


Perhaps Richard Power, who states “of all the professions, civil engineering…is among the least suited to women” would like to tell me why I, as a chartered structural engineer (and female), am not suited to my profession? Or tell me why, going into schools, as I do, trying to persuade girls (as well as boys) to seriously consider a career in civil and structural engineering in the face of a massive skills shortage, is not a good idea?

Only around 6,000 girls in this country take A level physics every year, and of these only a fraction can be expected to end up working in our industry. If Mr Power’s views were more widely held it would be even smaller. And we wonder why there are so few women in our profession? As people with insider knowledge of the industry, we have a duty to get the real facts out there. These comments would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact they can be so damaging. For clarity: there is no reason women are less suited to civil engineering than men. End of story.

  • Katie Symons,

Richard Power’s flawed argument and bizarre discriminatory attitude (Letters, 5 March) verge on self-parody. Can he genuinely be confusing “equal” with “identical”?

As to his last paragraph, I am still trying to decode it. He seems to say that women are physically unsuited for the civil engineering profession. It’s not clear why he thinks that. Because we might find it a bit tiring, perhaps?

I shouldn’t have to write this. Not all women - nor all men - will find civil engineering a suitable career for them for a whole range of reasons. But being “simply not equal” is not one of them.

● Kate Purver (M),

As a woman and a civil engineer, Richard Power’s comments are insulting and demeaning to me and all women civil engineers, past, current and future. Our gender is different, but our capabilities are equal.

The misogynist anti-feminist engineers like Mr Power should take heed of the fate of the dinosaur, who also failed to adapt to the requirements of their environment.

  • Jo Strange (M),

I was utterly amazed that such chauvinistic ideas still persist in 2015. The civil engineering profession is least suited to women?

This statement may have been true… 200 years ago! A woman can make just as good a civil engineer as any man. Yes, men and women are different but nothing about my role as an engineer depends on my physical capabilities. It’s all about my intellect and my ability to come up with innovative ways to solve problems. I’m a female civil engineer and a damn good one!

● Chama Shanyinde (G), ICE Graduates & Students Network vice chair,

There can be no more damaging idea than that men and women are identical, sic equal. Instead, and as Richard Power said, we are ­complementary.

Doreen Kimura is a world expert on sex differences in the brain. Her book, Sex and Cognition, says that men outperform women by half a standard error in maths aptitude tests. Consequently only circa 30% of women will be as good at that as is the average man. Worse still, there will be over 3.5 times as many men as women in the top 2.5% of ability in this vector.

Similarly, but more so, men outperform women in three dimensional imaginary rotation by one standard error. Consequently only one woman in six is likely to be as good in that vector as is the average man.

There are lots of other differences, some favouring men and some women, but equal we are not.

One way of getting lots of square pegs into round holes would be to persuade men to do nursing and women to do Engineering.

  • Paul Withrington (M),

Richard Power is to be congratulated for raising his head above an excessively high parapet.

Just because The Oxford English Dictionary defines a feminist in terms of what feminists believe does not imply that the belief is right. In my experience, women in general have a good sense of commercial acumen, and if adequate pay and conditions are offered they will flock to the cause.

  • Godfrey Ackers (F),


HS2 should look to Hong Kong’s Mass Transit

I must agree with Robin Clay that the designers of High Speed 2 could learn a great deal from the Mass Transit Railway in Hong Kong. Selling on the development rights above every station provided the funding to build the railway and the subsequent developments then provided much of the passenger traffic to make the railway one of the most profitable in the world. Absolutely win/win.

  • Brian Reid (F),

I made a success of failures but had to keep quiet

Your correspondent, professor CR Calladine made a plea for more reports on engineering failures (NCE 5 February).

Some years ago, I was taken on specifically to solve some “challenges” when something untoward had happened on site. My endeavours were successful, despite initial scepticism. After it was all over, I asked permission to publish a paper on the incidents and the solutions. Permission was refused, because the contractor did not want to lose face or see his reputation tarnished.

Robin Clay, Thornhill ­Farmhouse, ­Blandford Forum DT11 0RQ


Severn Estuary shows why lagoons will fail

Is it the internet generation of engineers alone who consider the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel a blank canvas upon which they can draw imaginary structures with so little regard for the oceanographic controls of this turbid system?

They appear blissfully ignorant that in the 1970s the UK was rich in its capability for marine sciences. The Institute for Marine Environmental Research (now PML) undertook at least 52 shipboard research experiments, whereas the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (now NOC) undertook 24.

This system is now better documented than virtually any other in the world. Knowing what we know, how can tidal lagoons possibly work in the

Severn as are being promoted? The semi-lunar fine sediment load fluctuates between a spring max of 30M+ tonnes and neap minimum of 2M tonnes, the balance settling temporarily onto the bed.

Every small structure which has ever been built here silts up rapidly. The rate of siltation of any lagoon above the Holms Islands will be so severe that it will be full long before it’s completed. We calculated that the annual tidal flat erosion rate was in the region of 4M tonnes/year. This would alter little with a lagoon or two in the estuary. There are about 600M tonnes of recently deposited mud in Bridgwater Bay sub-tidal mud patch alone.

It is difficult to see how even the Swansea Bay scheme is viable on this score.

  • Rob Kirby,

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