What do you get when you put a geologist, a mathematician and a YouTuber in a room?
The answer to a complex geotechnical engineering problem.
“Key to our success is diversity. Backgrounds, experiences, neurodivergence. Our people contribute differently to solving complex technical challenges which means we approach things differently. We think differently, and that diversity as an organisation contributes to coming up with fantastic engineering solutions.”
To celebrate this year’s IWD, we asked our managing director Dr Susan Greene about her experiences of working in the traditionally male dominated sector of engineering. And how she is leading change by example through her role at OTB Engineering.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March, 2022 (IWD 2022) is, “Break the Bias”. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field.
When Susan started at OTB as a Director six years ago, 20% of the organisation was female. Now women make up 50% of the team. This is an amazing achievement when, in the UK, just 14.5% of all engineers are female.
“I feel passionately about making sure that there is a true and visible career pathway for everyone at OTB. Diversity is not just tolerated but recognised and appreciated. And the way that everyone contributes and leads by example. Things like our flexible working conditions: they are led from the top. Remote working, hybrid working enabling a better work life balance including child care. And to contribute holistically to society.”
There is a genuine desire in the industry for change. Organisations like HS2 and Thames Tideway aren’t simply asking their supply chain to comply with D&I requirements, they are actively supporting their ecosystems to address inequalities.
Nonetheless, from male orientated working practices to non-inclusive language, biases persist, intentional or not. Calling these behaviours out and addressing them will hasten change and Susan is committed to challenging gender stereotypes, discrimination and bias wherever she sees it.
Susan has experienced first hand that a woman’s career in engineering can be tough. It is a male dominated sector and she often sees evidence that the ‘old boy’s network’ is still alive and well.
“I think women do have to work harder and often need to be better than our male counterparts to get to the same position. You have to go further to prove yourself and that perhaps doesn't exist at the same level for men.”
Susan puts her own career success down to her tenacity the luck of having supportive line managers and her own empathic and inclusive leadership.
But the challenge ahead is to ensure we have the architecture in place to build a diverse and inclusive industry by design, and rely less on luck. The future growth of the industry depends on it. We’re crying out for talent now and need to ensure we attract diverse and innovative future generations into the industry.
More women are now going into the industry with an almost 94% increase of women taking up engineering at University. But more work needs to be done.
“If I was to observe anything, the biggest problem in our industry is females at senior positions and above. So our parity in terms of gender is getting much, much better at the lower levels, but at the higher levels there is still work to be done.“
Finally, we asked Susan for a word of advice for young women entering engineering today. For her, it’s all about purpose:
“As a young engineer, you have the power to work for an organisation that you believe in. Where you're contributing something positive to society. If you don't feel that, move. Somewhere there's a place for you, where you can turn up to work every day and be your genuine self, because you truly believe in what you're doing, and who you're doing it with. That’s what success looks like.”
OTB Engineering is a dynamic SME that specialises in civil and structural engineering. We’re renowned for our creative and practical engineering solutions. We thrive on providing sustainable, innovative infrastructure solutions that improve the lives of others and make the world a better place.
The world is imperfect and biases still shape our industry. But things are shifting and gradually being broken down and OTB is committed to leading the way. There is a place in OTB for everybody and there is zero tolerance for anything else.