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In Her Words: The road ahead

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Equalities, In Their Words, Women


Rachel on site in a high vis

This Government is investing in infrastructure and construction to support the economy and help us bounce back from the pandemic. This UK Construction Week, Rachel from Arup tells us about her experience of being a woman in the construction sector, and why it’s not all high-vis and hard hats.

Sustainable futures

When I tell people I’m a Transport Planner, they immediately think of roads, high-vis and hard hats, but my day-to-day couldn’t be further from this.

Sustainability lies at the centre of my work. This means designing schemes that enable people to travel by walking, cycling or public transport. I get to collaborate with urban designers, architects, town planners, ecologists, engineers and various other teams, each bringing their own expertise and unique perspective into a project.

Whether I’m planning the reopening of Manchester Town Hall or advising on an autonomous vehicle strategy in the Middle East, every project is different. Transport planning isn’t just about moving people around; it’s also about creating safe, sustainable and accessible places for all.

The road ahead isn’t always clear

Growing up I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I flitted between ideas of being a paramedic or maybe a dentist. I knew I wanted to do something useful, but I couldn’t find anything that seemed to fit.

I liked science at school, so decided to get a biology degree, as I knew this would be an open-ended route into the working world. But after completing my studies I found myself in the same situation as three years earlier: what next?

Living at home, pondering my next steps, I started helping my dad with his transport planning business. At first, I was in it for the pay and to remedy the boredom of being at home. Then a few months later, I found myself enjoying the work and doing it well, so I carried on. I fell into this career by accident, and now six years down the line I couldn’t be happier with where I am and where I’m going.

Rachel in her office

You can’t be what you can’t see

My Auntie was one of the first women to study civil engineering in Scotland, back in the early 1970s. It wasn’t a subject that women did at that time. She needed to take a technical drawing class to get onto the course, but her school insisted that this was a subject reserved for boys. My grandparents, seeing the potential in her, fought fiercely to get my auntie into the class and succeeded.  She’s since gone on to work on civil engineering projects across the world throughout her 40-year career.

This shows the impact and lasting change we can effect when we advocate for others.

Through the years, I’m sure many women have pursued STEM careers after seeing other women excel in the field. Diversity tends to have a ripple effect like that, when you see other people like you doing a role, you realise it’s a possibility.

Making progress

Women are still underrepresented in most professions in the built environment. As in many sectors, there are challenges around equality of pay, equal opportunity and diversity in leadership remain.

I’m lucky to work for a company that encourages open and honest conversations about diversity and inclusion. Arup has active gender equality and BAME networks, who strive to promote diversity and continue important conversations around gender and race.

As with all companies in the construction sector we still have a way to go. The journey towards true inclusion is ongoing and although it’s important to celebrate progress, we have to continue to be self-critical in order to be better.

How can we encourage more girls into STEM?

STEM engagement in the early stages of education is a key aspect to addressing gender imbalances in the industry. We need to ensure STEM school subjects are open to all students and that girls are actively encouraged to take them at school, college and University

Engagement can happen outside of schools too. I would urge you to speak to the young people in your life about the opportunities that STEM has to offer, and make sure they know these opportunities exist for them, regardless of who they are.

Finally, if you find yourself in a position where you can, advocate for others and elevate their voice. Diverse perspectives make us better designers, and the built environment sector will only benefit from being a more inclusive place.

Why not give an hour and make a difference to the future career choices that a young person makes?

Sharing your career journey and industry insights with young people in schools and colleges in your local community can make a difference to the options a young person considers for their careers. You could be the person who changes the life of a young person, just by showing them what is possible.

Give an hour.

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