23rd June 2023

Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day: Nicky Rance

We continue celebrating the work of our female engineers in support of International Women in Engineering Day on the 23rd June.

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we had the opportunity to speak with Nicky Rance, Project Director at Sir Robert McAlpine.

What specific steps can the construction industry take to foster a culture of safety that empowers and encourages women to actively participate and contribute their expertise?

Equity is key. This doesn’t mean giving everyone the same treatment, but rather making sure all people have the right resources to succeed. A good example of this is PPE. There was a time when women wore the same PPE as men, but over-large hi-vis vests, for example, can create safety issues by catching on scaffolding. The only options for women had pink trims and accessories!

Thankfully there are better choices on the market now, as well as more enlightened employers that realise it isn’t a question of vanity, but rather one of safety.

Women can also offer different perspectives to men. If the construction industry allows and encourages all voices to be heard from a diverse range of people, including women, we can work together to help build a safer culture with more people looking out for one another and choosing to do the right thing because they understand the impacts of actions on their friends and families.

Can you share your personal journey as a woman in engineering and highlight any significant challenges or achievements you've experienced?

I’m pleased to share I’ve had many positive experiences over my twenty-five-plus years in the industry. Sir Robert McAlpine has offered great career development opportunities that I have seized to become a Project Director.

The key to that success, I believe, lies with a few specific individuals who have seen my potential and gone out of their way to share their knowledge; prepare me for future roles; and trust me to take the next step up. I will always remember and appreciate that mentorship.

There have been some lower points too, which I can fortunately laugh about now, like having to crack the ice in the female portaloo early one morning on site.

There have also been more sinister experiences, like being told in no uncertain terms by a male delivery driver that a construction site was absolutely no place for a woman and that I shouldn’t be there.

However, I am happy to report I haven’t come across many individuals who hold that attitude. Although at times it has felt like I’ve had to work harder to gain trust than my male counterparts, almost without fail I have found that once relationships are built, I have been able to earn respect and be treated as an equal without prejudice.

As a woman in engineering, what are you doing to #makesafetyseen and help build a brighter future?

As the lead on my projects, I chair our Project Safety Leadership Team site walkrounds and meetings myself to embed a positive, proactive safety culture onsite. I also make a conscious effort to build a team culture where everyone belongs, everyone is valued, and everyone wants to work safely and deliver quality work because it is the right thing to do, and not because they are afraid of backlash.

In your opinion, what are some of the key reasons why we need to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day?

I am a firm believer that positive discrimination is no better than negative discrimination. However, if we are to continue to increase the number of women working in construction, we need women to have role models they can see who are like themselves. It’s harder to be what you can’t see, and as such, the more we can do to visibly celebrate events like International Women in Engineering Day, or Women in Construction Week, the better.

This heightened visibility will show everyone that interesting and varied opportunities exist for all genders in construction.

This is especially important in current times when we are experiencing such severe skills shortages across all roles in the industry. The more diverse a talent pool we can recruit from, the wider that pool becomes, and the more likely the industry is able to identify and recruit the best individuals for the job.

Have you witnessed any positive changes or progress in terms of gender diversity within the engineering industry during your career?

There are now far more women on engineering courses than there were in my cohort. As a member of the Department of Civil Engineering Industrial Advisory Board at the University of Nottingham, I see this first hand when I visit lectures and discuss end of year projects with the students.

There are also now many more women in senior roles at Sir Robert McAlpine than when I joined 25 years ago. Senior Design Managers, Project Managers and Project Directors, as well as Directors across various disciplines, including design and finance, are women.

Additionally, gender diversity and equality discussions have far more profile than they used to. As an example, gendered language may still be used by some without thinking and without bad intention, but it is openly called out at the time which is well received. This is a huge improvement from years ago.

What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in engineering but may be hesitant due to societal expectations or lack of representation?

If a career in engineering or construction appeals to you, then go for it. Be yourself, don’t try to conform to someone you’re not; ask questions and be curious; be visible and present in the opportunities you get; build relationships and value them; work with a mentor, if possible, as most people will be happy to share their experiences.

Engineering isn’t for everyone, much the same as being a doctor or lawyer isn’t for everyone, but if it is something you think you will enjoy then don’t hold back.

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