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The engineering and infrastructure sectors tend to have a problem attracting women due to stereotyped ideas of what their jobs involve.
So how do you change that? Amey is one firm that is looking at a range of ways to both get more women into the business and ensure they progress.
Currently around a quarter of its senior managers are women, but in STEM-related areas where most firms are struggling there is a big challenge.
Amey does a lot of outreach work to encourage more women into STEM. Its Managing Director for Consulting & Rail Nicola Hindle has a 30% target for women in STEM careers, backed by a 10-point plan.
There is a focus group working on the plan, making STEM careers more appealing to women and making sure all the services Amey provides are inclusive. “Engineering is not just about fixing something. It’s about enhancing people’s lives, creating better places,” says Coral Taylor, who looks after Diversity & Inclusion at Amey. She gives the example of ensuring footbridge design accommodates double buggies.
Taylor adds: “There is a lack of knowledge about what engineering is and about the variety of engineering roles on offer, from 3D modelling to planning cities of the future.”
Every year for the last three years Amey has taken part in the national Women in Engineering Day, providing case studies. It invites female students into the organisation to see behind the scenes, it works with schools in deprived parts of Birmingham, with the Royal Academy of Engineering in universities and with WISE and it has been collaborating with Girl Guides UK on getting girls into engineering – dismantling myths through promoting positive role models and focusing on how engineers make a difference. “Having people in engineering who have different mindsets means we will be able to come up with better solutions and avoid groupthink,” says Taylor. She says it is not just about reaching students, but also their parents who play an important part in children’s career decisions. However, she admits outreach can only go so far and it is important to communicate what it is doing more widely.
Moreover, while attraction of women to the business is a key issue, progressing them up the career ladder is another. Amey’s CEO has set targets for diversity at the top of the business after calling a meeting of senior managers when he took over nearly two years ago and being horrified how many looked like him. The firm is looking to double the number of women in its 300 most senior roles. It now has around 50 in senior roles. It is also looking to ensure around 10% of those roles are taken by BAME employees. Amey has an inclusion week every year and emphasises understanding different people’s needs and circumstances. It is also working with Scope.
On the gender diversity side, Amey runs leadership and female development programmes. One programme is for back office staff and offers cross mentoring with senior women across the business. Its female development programme has 20 women on it and is aimed at talented women just below senior manager level who are not breaking through the barrier. It is a one-year programme which provides mentors and sponsors, networking skills and funding for career development. It encourages women to take secondment opportunities in challenging roles and take part in shadowing exercises.
“It’s about encouraging them to put themselves slightly out of their comfort zone so that if a promotion comes up they have the confidence to put themselves forward,” says Taylor. Amey also puts talented women at all levels of the business forward for awards. These initiatives help address the perennial issue of women not going for roles unless they have all the specifications when men will apply even if they have only a few. Similarly in its job adverts, Amey makes a point of spelling out that alternative comparable experience is valuable. This practice has already boosted applications from women. The language used in job adverts is also important and Amey encourages applicants to have conversations with managers before they apply for roles.
Amey has a lot of flexible working, but this is mainly for office-based jobs. It is looking at how to extend this on site and to challenge received ideas of how a job should be done. On family friendly policies, it offers 18 months enhanced maternity pay after an internal survey showed it was a key issue for women. It also enhances paternity pay and is looking at what it can offer for Shared Parental Leave. There is a small network group for new parents.
Taylor says Amey is keen to communicate what it is doing and to show why it matters and how it links to the company’s core values. “There was a lightbulb moment when we were working with Scope and talking to people with disabilities about their experiences,” she says. “One woman described her problems travelling by train and how her husband went to get a ramp to help her off. The train left with her on it while he was doing so. Simple things can make a difference. Our aim is to make life easier for people and to break down any sense of otherness. We are about putting people first – the people we work for and the people we work with.”