Guidance on equal opportunities employment policies should be written into the ICE's professional code of conduct, according to former ICE Council member Helen Stone.
'Equal opportunities are a legal requirement but engineers need guidance on what the legislation is,' says Stone, who sits on the Construction Industry Council's equal opportunities task force.
Stone is helping to draft a guide for professional bodies considering a bylaw change. She wants the ICE to follow the lead of the Regional Town Planning Institution which does have a clause.
Starting out as a group of women construction professionals looking to lobby on equality issues, the CIC task force has widened its brief to represent racial and disability issues as well. 'There are pros and cons to this approach,' said Stone. 'We need to make sure we remain focused in everything we do.'
The ICE's new equal opportunities forum, to be chaired by Michelle McDowell of the Building Design Partnership, will be modelled closely on the CIC version.
Stone is encouraged by the growing numbers of women in civil engineering. 'When I started out 25 years ago, it was very rare to be working with another woman. I was the first woman in my firm to go on site. Female members of the ICE would double roughly every five years from a tiny starting number. The rate of growth has levelled off in the last few years and is now about 15% at the undergraduate level but a lower percentage of overall membership.'
In salary terms there is evidence that women entering the profession are paid at least as well as their male colleagues, and sometimes better according to the ICE/NCE 1998 salary survey.
Of more concern are the problems faced by women trying to climb the career ladder. 'Boards of companies made up mostly of men have a habit of cloning themselves, especially in the private sector,' says Stone.