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Letters: We must all avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping

Delivery men

Cover image: Where are the women?

I was infuriated to see the inappropriate and clumsy headline ‘Delivery Men’ (NCE print edition 27 November). The impression given, whether intentional or not, is that the new infrastructure client group is entirely staffed by, or only a forum likely to be comprised of, men. Even if this was currently factually correct through a fully male membership, it would make the headline no more acceptable.
Imagine my further surprise, however, when I found inside the issue that the group includes Denise Bower and Zara Lamont. I can only guess at their reaction to the headline.
In an issue containing many respondents to Mark Carne’s 30% female quota, one of those letters asserts that we need to make the industry more appealing to women rather than setting quotas. If a lead magazine for the industry can produce such a poorly considered front page headline, accompanied by five prominent and stereotypical photos of a key industry group, then we are failing to present a diverse and welcoming image even at the most basic level.

  • Rob Gully (M)
  • Editor’s note: You’re absolutely right, of course. Apologies to all for our terrible oversight; rest assured NCE remains totally committed to gender equality, despite that cover line.

I read the article suggesting setting targets for 30% of the workforce in Network Rail to be women by 2018 with great interest.

I could not help thinking how times have changed, but how long it has taken. Sadly by 2018 I will have retired, but to illustrate the change I thought that your readers might be interested to hear my experience of going for an interview with British Rail in 1974. I was at university in Bristol reading geography but with a keen interest in transport at the time, and was told (at the end of the questioning) that “these roles are not open to women”.

I have to admit that as an undergraduate it was probably one of the most humiliating moments of my life and one that I keenly remember. I am thankful to think that no woman would face such comments today, irrespective of whether or not the industry has quotas.

I am also pleased to say that it did not put me off a career in transport, although I don’t think that I was able to have some of the opportunities or challenges that

I could have if embarking on such a career choice today. I am therefore quite envious of the next generation but thrilled that I have been part of pioneering the change - recognition for which came during 2013/14 through becoming the first woman to be president of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation.

I can only hope that the women now being welcomed into the industry will enjoy their working lives as much as I have, as we seek to make all our transport networks serve the needs of a diverse society.

  • Sheila Holden (M),


Is the app coming of age at last?

As a long-retired Fellow of the ICE, I look forward each week to the arrival of NCE. I am 93 years old and fairly “compos mentis”. I spent 31 happy years with JD & DM Watson (later Watson-Hawksley) and retired, exhausted after working in Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in 1984. I read in this week’s NCE that you have “upgraded my app”.

I have not found “app” in any of my dictionaries but it would be next to “appal”, which suggests it is something awful. None of my friends know. Quite honestly, I do not know. This is not a leg-pull. I would be grateful for your explanation.

Lance Watson (F retd), 28 Fairfield Gardens, Honiton, Devon, EX14 1DW

  • Editor’s note: I’m delighted that after all those happy years you are still looking forward to receiving your printed copy of NCE. And rest assured, we’ve no plans to change that for you! But many of our readers are now enjoying NCE in a non-printed format, either on their iPad or internet-enabled mobile phone (a smart phone). The means to do this is to download an “app” - modern parlance for application and, I assure you, far from appalling - rather wonderful in fact (although I am biased!).


Garden Bridge challenges…

My concerns about maintaining the Garden Bridge are genuine, as your correspondent reports (NCE 24 November), but he has missed the important point I was making. As I noted, the design is unique and presents a number of significant challenges. Durability is a key issue, as is the need to minimise long-term maintenance costs, and the opportunity exists to make improvements by allowing bidding contractors and their expert designers freedom to develop the design. We do not yet know to what extent the contractors will be given freedom in the process, but we trust that a suitable procurement package will emerge which ensures that such value engineering opportunities are not missed.

If we are to have a bridge on that location then let’s ensure that we have the best bridge that £175M can buy.

Ian Firth, Flint & Neill, Bevis Marks House, 24 Bevis Marks, London EC3A 7JB

…and potential for development

With reference to the article regarding the proposed London Garden Bridge, I can’t help wondering where this vanguard development will lead our capital. A logical progression of this “wood on the water” would be an even wider “wood on the water”. I can imagine it becoming very popular, so why not repeat this marvellous way of greening the city in several places? I have calculated that were the Thames to be culverted the full 25km or so of its length through the heart of London then the land value “release” would be somewhere in the order of £50bn. As ultimately woods get cut down and built on, such an ambitious plan would eventually enable a further massive redevelopment of central London. I wonder why the banking sector, with its opening donation of £3M, is so keen on this prototype?

Richard Houghton (M), Sine Aequalis, 14 Duke Street, Buxton, Derbyshire. SK17 9AB

Gauging the quality of MEng

I was very interested in your Comment on trusting in youth (NCE 20 November), in particular your point about the “pressure on academic achievement”.

During my later years recruiting graduates, I was far more interested in the person I was interviewing rather than the qualifications they had, as the real learning of technical and practical skills only starts after university.

As a member (and chair) of the Civil Engineering Employers’ Training Group, we made representation a few years ago to both JBM and ACED concerning the real lack of engineering knowledge held by a large number of those graduating from even the top universities.

The situation is not helped by the ICE and the QUEST scholarships. Anybody with less than A* is generally not considered.

And overarching everything is the requirement from the Engineering Council that those requiring a straightforward route to Chartered status must have an MEng. What rubbish! There should be one review, and the reviewers should be able to decide whether the candidate in front of them is either chartered engineer or incorporated engineer material.

It is not the qualification that is the real pointer. It is the person who carries that qualification.

  • Chris Hughes (M),

Spreading the word in schools

The following may be relevant to Nick Eckford’s comments (Letters 6 November). In the 1970s at the request of the Women’s Engineering Society I visited a number of schools to tell the fifth and sixth form girls (and boys) of my own experiences with the Thames Barrier and various overseas hydraulic problems.

The response, particularly among girls, was most encouraging and I came to realise that it was really education for parents and teachers that was required and therefore took advantage of every request to present awards and prizes at schools by involving them. We cannot do too much.

  • Mary Kendrick, Hurdle Makers, Crazies Hill, Reading RG10 8LU

Perils of trusting the computer

I was most interested to read Tony Gould’s Viewpoint (NCE 16 October) about design software. It reminded me of an incident that occurred in the early 1960s, when at the age of 34, I was a London District Surveyor in the East End district of Shoreditch.

A set of computer designed calculations were submitted for a new multi-storey reinforced concrete car park, having two-way spanning floor slabs supported on continuous reinforced concrete beams.

When the ‘package’ arrived together with detailed drawings, I was somewhat daunted by the pile of computer print-out calculations, since this was the first computer aided design that has been received by me. I decided to temporarily set aside the calculations and to concentrate my attention on the accompanying detailed drawings of the continuous beams and two-way spanning slabs.

After a thorough scrutiny of the main reinforcement in the continuous beams, it quickly became apparent that the magnitude and arrangement of the main reinforcement in such beams, was not what an experienced structural engineer would expect from a design of this kind and this was confirmed by some subsequent long-hand ­calculations.

The structural designers were invited to a meeting to discuss these matters and were soon convinced themselves that something was seriously wrong with the computer-aided design. It later transpired that the input of incorrect data in to the computer program had been the cause of the errors that had occurred and the beams were subsequently successfully redesigned.

This incident certainly taught me not to accept ‘blindly’ a computer-aided design, without first carrying out some basic long-hand checks to verify its accuracy. Engineering judgement, as Tony Gould, puts it, is a most valuable commodity, but often a scarce one.

  • GA Bettany (M) 30 Rochester Mews, Westcliff-on-sea, Essex, SS0 0NE


Thames culvert is the answer

Katja Leyendecker is absolutely right (Letters 13 November). I remember crossing the Thames using the Dartford Ferry. It must have been 1951 or 1952, and paying, I think, 7/6d to ride in my father’s Triumph Renown.

“We are going to build a tunnel” to solve the problem of the bottleneck. It was soon chock-a-block. “We are going to build another tunnel” to solve the problem. That one was soon chock-a-block. “We are going to build a four-lane bridge”. That will solve the problem! And look at it now - it sometimes takes hours to cross.
The only way to solve it finally is to culvert the Thames from Southend Pier to Tower Bridge, then everyone can cross where they like! Boris could even have his airport! Now that is a civil engineering project we could get our teeth into!

  • Stuart Sutcliffe (M retd), 16 Springfield Gardens, Upminster, Essex


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