Engineer wants equality in work

Kate Cairns FICE with Professor Tim Broyd, President Elect of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Kate Cairns FICE with Professor Tim Broyd, President Elect of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

A mother of three who has built a successful engineering career is calling for more to be done to encourage women and minority groups to choose their dream job – no matter if it challenges social perceptions and boundaries.

Kate Cairns, from Newton-by-the-Sea, has been working in the construction industry for more than 20 years and she was recently elected as a general member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Council.

Now Kate, county council ward member for Longhoughton, believes more needs to be done in the engineering sector – and others – to encourage women in the work place.

She said: “I am calling for change at a national and industry level. I want the doors to open to inspire and encourage women and girls to challenge the status quo and to have the confidence to do whatever profession they choose to do.

“Women in engineering has become a common agenda item and oft-overheard topic in many quarters. Promotional organisations such as Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) have done good work. I experienced their influence as a teenager when considering a career in engineering but also as a professional when shortlisted in 2015 for a WISE Award.

“I am not interested in women in engineering just because I am a woman in engineering. I am interested in challenging the status quo, stretching standards and probing comfort zones because any improvements we make for women brings benefits for all, opening paths for other minority groups so we can build creative, diverse, flexible teams.

“I have always felt indignation at injustice and inequality. It compels me to intervene and drives a desire to make workplaces, and all places, fair and more inclusive.

“It is generally accepted that inclusivity benefits us all especially in times where we have a severe skills shortage. Yet when New Civil Engineer magazine carried out a survey on diversity it revealed some worrying hard-line views of members about gender and minority groups.

“A report, Engineering Action: Tackling Homophobia in Engineering (InterEngineering 2016), concluded that there was a 30 per cent loss in productivity and engagement by those who felt they had to hide their true sexuality at work whilst over half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people employed in engineering are choosing to remain in the closet through fear of the impact coming out and homophobia would have on their professional careers.

“Professional engineering institutions have started to address the issue. We have the Royal Academy of Engineering Diversity and Inclusion toolkit, the Construction Industry Council Blueprint for Change and the ICE Diversity and Inclusivity Action Plan. We have action plans and policies, but in real life, on the ground, in offices, and on site, we need men to be ‘boastful’ on behalf of women.

“We need (male) allies, leaders and champions; we need cognisance and challenge of bias. Only then will we stretch the status quo and make the engineering sector a place of acceptance, not just for straight, white men but for women and all other minority groups.”

Highlighting the important role that women can play, she flagged up the story of Sarah Guppy, who invented a piling device in 1811, which proved instrumental in the construction of the Bristol Clifton Suspension Bridge.