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Venables is leading a new era in more ways than one

As the first ever female president of the ICE, Jean Venables has a great opportunity to move civil engineering to centre stage, says NCE editor Antony Oliver.
Next week's presidential address by Jean Venables marks the start of her year in office and really will be an historic moment for the Institution of Civil Engineers.
It is a moment that should demonstrate that the institution and profession are transforming into a modern, inclusive industry and finally breaking away from the image of civil engineering as a macho, male dominated career option.
And as the first ever female president, Venables will, without question, turn heads and open doors. It is therefore also a moment in history that will present the profession a unique opportunity to move to the centre of the UK political policy stage.
Like it or not, gender will be very important in the battle to win audience and air time. The fact that civil engineering is still so hugely male-dominated makes it all the more intriguing to the government and the national media that a woman has, for the first time in 190 years, achieved the highest honour in the oldest engineering institution.
Yet it will not be all about gender - once through the door or in front of the camera there has to be a stronger message beneath. While certainly the opportunity to boost the diversity agenda in the profession is very important, it is an internal issue that cuts little ice in the outside world.
So it is fortunate, therefore, that her personal passions and main theme next year will not only be very outward looking but also will be very closely aligned to those of the Brown government. By majoring on the need to radically and immediately tackle climate change, she will, if she plays her cards right, be pushing at an open door.
The crucial issue next year will be for Venables to convert her passion and huge expertise into direct and tangible influence. In short she must help the ICE - and the industry - to dominate the planning, energy, transport, waste and environment policy making processes.
She must use her influence to ensure that tough decisions are taken to wean the UK off fossil fuels and demonstrate that good, properly funded engineering expertise is the key - if not the only - way to meet our target of an 80% cut in emissions by 2050.
She must use her influence to ensure that the recession does not become an excuse for cutting back on the vital investment needed to kick-start a low carbon future.
And similarly she must use her influence to ensure that the government not only clearly understands the positive link between public infrastructure investment and economic growth but also has the evidence to back it up.
So if Venables is to convert her historic moment into a truly historic year she must work to ensure that, with or without a chief engineering advisor, government seeks out and values engineering advice as the key to economic recovery. She'll have a busy year.

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