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Letters: Is casual sexism a semantic issue or real concern?



Are we really to believe that our industry is “institutionally sexist” on the basis of the dubious use of statistics and redefining the meanings of commonly understood words (Comment 20 March)?

Should we be equally concerned at the lack of male midwives (should that be midpersons?), or the disproportionate number of female primary school teachers?
Unless someone can demonstrate real barriers preventing women from entering construction, I am inclined to let individuals choose their own careers. Allowing ourselves to be bullied by the thought police won’t benefit the industry in the long term.

  • Tony Putsman(M),

Does Mark Hansford think that using the word “staffed” instead of “manned” will somehow make civil engineering a more attractive career prospect for women? It’s exactly this sort of tinkering round the edges that makes it hard for people to take the issue seriously.

If he wants to be “bold” and “get serious” then I suggest that instead of messing around with the NCE style rules he goes into schools and talks enthusiastically about the profession to girls and boys of all ages. Or even better, convince Margo Cole to do it!

  • Richard Hein (M),

I fear Mark Hansford’s Comment on the issue of casual sexism will do little than cause the predictable eyeball-rolling of those who dread the mention of the F-word, and fail to grasp its true meaning. It may be a starting point for debate but if this is the perceived notion of what casual sexism is I don’t hold out much hope for its outcome.

Casual sexism is asking the woman in the room if she does general administrative duties; it’s addressing the man sitting next to the woman who asked the question; it’s acceptance that PPE doesn’t come in sizes for women; it’s using golf outings for business networking; it’s an assumption that a woman will happily take a career break to raise a family and that her commitment to her career is diminished from that point on. There is a certain amount of complacency as within any majority representation, which is far preferable to active discrimination of which I believe there is very little, so if there is any real desire or hope for change attitudes need to be challenged from within.

It really shouldn’t take a rap on the knuckles from an MP to force the issue into the open but I hope the debate starts now and that in 20 years we have an industry that is truly representative.

  • Kirsty Jamieson,

As a linguist intimately connected to a civil engineer, and an avid reader of NCE in the bathroom, I was delighted to see your Comment on casual sexism (NCE 20 March). You may still have a little way to go though.

You say: “I am willing to bet that nine out of 10 of you would also have written ‘manned’,” and then you refer to the shortage of women entering the profession and the “problem when it comes to keeping them”. Who’s “you” and who’s “them”? Sounds like you’re talking to male readers. What about the female ones?

  • Joan Cutting,

If only HS2 could cover all of UK

Your article on High Speed 2 (HS2) didn’t place much emphasis on David Higgins’ call on the government to align HS2 with Network Rail and civic leaders’ priorities for other rail expenditure (NCE 20 March)

Higgins’ report mentions Crossrails 1 and 2 and improvements to the north and west London services as well as the northern projects you highlighted as needed to transform the North.

His report starts with a forthright explanation for rising rail demand, which he attributes to the unbalanced nature of the UK economy.

Says Higgins: “People feel they have to work, and therefore live… within commuting distance. It is a vicious circle that [affects] people’s daily lives and the hidden costs in our economy.”

BBC broadcaster Evan Davies in his recent Mind the Gap programmes made the same point and, like Higgins, argued that better east-west rail connections are needed between Liverpool and Leeds to complement HS2’s North-South bias.

Higgins goes on to argue that the money set aside for the second phase of HS2 plus the money to be allocated as part of Network Rail’s control period 6 from 2019 to 2024 should form the basis for a fully integrated plan - a most welcome ­conclusion.

Martin Sloman of 20 Miles More argued in NCE the following week that Liverpool will lose out to Manchester if HS2 Phase 2 services to Liverpool are constrained by the 62km of existing track north of Crewe.

The report behind his article argues that a new route for the last 20 miles to Liverpool needs to be identified now and has the potential to provide faster services between Liverpool andManchester. It rightly concludes by urging HS2 Ltd and the government to review its research and findings and to commission further investigations.

  • Stuart Porter (M),

Birmingham HS2 metro far better

The proposal to link the Birmingham Interchange station on High Speed 2 with the centre of Birmingham using a metro rather than a spur to Curzon Street is a vast improvement (NCE 20 March).If the metro extended to Coventry it would be even better and might overcome strong local opposition to this scheme which currently offers virtually nothing to the West Midlands.
Professor Peter Claisse,

London change step too far

A 21st Century rail system includes “Integrated Transport Hubs”. Travellers define this as having the ability to make a cross-platform change to continue one’s journey.

An example of this is Lille, in northern France, where one can alight from High Speed 1 and continue by TGV to a multitude of destinations.

I have personal experience of this, travelling to south west France.

We, in the North West, are delighted to read that Crewe will become an “Integrated ­Transport Hub”, so that we all can benefit from this huge investment.

So why will we have to walk several hundred yards with heavy luggage from Euston to St Pancras to transfer from HS2 to HS1?

This lack of an essential cross-platform change facility at the London terminus defies our 21st century requirement.

It needs to be sorted out.

  • Mike Chandler (M),


UK standard needed to cut cycle fatalities

Kate Cairns rightly highlighted the critical need for greater industry action to tackle the unacceptable and disproportionate number of accidents that our sector’s vehicles have caused (NCE 20 March).

While the implementation of the Standard for Construction Logistics is a step forward in providing improved protection for vulnerable road users on London’s roads, it is now vital that this fleet standard is adopted on a national scale.

The current reality is that there are 11 HGV standards still in existence.

Companies are still expected to meet multiple fleet requirements, which are essentially hybrids of these schemes.

A failure to adopt a consistent national standard will not lead to the critical improvements in safety that construction logistics must deliver.

Secondly, without cross-industry implementation of a single national standard, many suppliers will be faced with an unworkable situation.

I have no doubt that the emergence of these different specifications has been driven by a genuine desire from the industry to tackle cycle safety, but a myriad different cycle-safe technical standards for HGVs is completely impractical to implement.

  • Sean McGrae, senior national transport manager, Lafarge Tarmac,

Come on Geoff! Come to Sheffield

Much as I enjoyed the short article on the Dale Dyke Dam failure (NCE 20 March), you spoilt it by having a photo of Geoff French with Big Ben in the background. This only serves to perpetuate the North-South divide in the UK.

There are many super sights in and around Sheffield where a photo could have been taken.

  • Bob McKittrick (F),


Dredging part of Levels solution

I was the project manager of the study of the River Parrett siltation processes and proposed tidal barrier to which Basil Tinkler refers (NCE 20 March). The conclusions
were published in The Public Health Engineer, Vol 8, No 1, January 1980.

As Tinkler indicates, the very high tidal sediment load in the River Parrett means that any dredging work will be quickly negated as the tidal river reverts to its equilibrium state. The Somerset Levels are a complex hydraulic network of natural and artificial drainage channels, sluices and pumps, and the whole system needs to be understood and proactively managed.

Dredging is not a panacea, but might be part of a management solution. In the government’s commitment that “money is no object”, a thorough study of the whole catchment and its drainage systems to optimise permanent works and operating rules to minimise flooding would be the intelligent way forwards.

  • Mike Thorn (F),


Clients need to change their habits

Procurement of contracts is handled by accountants and contracts people steeped in procedure and law. Selection of contractors is made by these people using subjective scoring mechanisms and based on information supplied by the bid teams of the contractors who are trying to answer the client’s questions in a way that gets them selected.

Delivery of contracts is handled by people who are professional engineers and project managers, few will have been involved in the selection process; success will depend wholly on the ability of these leaders to create an environment that brings the best out of all the performers to deliver the contracts.

Right now it feels like large clients are focusing too much on the former.

  • Howard Lees,

Electrification challenge

Regarding electrification of the Great Western Main Line to Swansea and the South West, how do engineers propose to engineer this through the Severn Tunnel? It has no spatial or robust structural aspects that can accommodate this. And then around Dawlish with saline sea water spray that can impact on the electrification cables.

  • Nigel Craddock,


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