It’s time to scrap the negative stereotypes plaguing engineering and construction, says Burns & McDonnell’s Zoe Dempsey
I began my working life in forensic science, but when I joined the Energy Systems Catapult in 2018 it was the springboard for me to appreciate how exciting it is to work within the energy transition. It also opened my eyes to the diverse range of career opportunities the transition offered.
I believe it is important to encourage women at all stages of their career to consider engineering and construction, not only recent graduates.
My own experience shows that there are women with important transferrable skills who can join the sector later in their career and make a significant impact. We need more promotional campaigns to highlight this fact, and to dispel male-dominated stigmas that create so much difficulty when trying to attract women from other sectors to engineering.
In 2020, I became business development director at Burns & McDonnell. As a woman who grew up before the #MeToo era, I wasn’t sure what to expect in my first few weeks. I did have some apprehensions around the masculine stereotypes of the industry, and I do remember being struck at the industry events I attended how male-dominated the rooms were.
However, in the coming weeks and months, I was glad to find many of the concerns and preconceptions I had about a job in engineering did not materialise. As women in the industry, it is vital that we talk about our lived experience, in order to dispel some of the myths and stereotypes, and let everyone know that some things certainly have changed.
There is still far more to be done. For instance, on site I have only met one woman who was part of the operational team. We need to work together, both men and women, to overcome our biases and create an inclusive environment. This includes the seemingly “small” things too.
At Burns & McDonnell, we proactively use images of women in our recruitment campaigns and make the language in job adverts gender neutral.
We have also set up an internal resource group, Burns & McDonnell Network of Women (NOW), to support each other and discuss ideas for change. Everyone is invited to these meetings, not just women, which means we collectively buy into the solutions.
It is important to acknowledge that the industry has made significant progress.
On my first visit to a construction site my initial concern was whether any of the PPE would fit me. Fortunately, Burns & McDonnell takes a proactive approach to sourcing inclusive PPE. This now comes in women’s sizes and shapes, with pockets in convenient places instead of awkward ones.
My apprehensions around any wolf-whistling or a lack of female facilities were also dispelled. I felt very safe and welcomed by those working on site, and the visit was a positive and interesting experience.
While we all know there is more work to be done, I’d like to help change the narrative and encourage other women, at whatever stage they are in their career, to join an industry which is constantly innovating, evolving and vital for all our futures.
Zoe Dempsey is business development director at Burns & McDonnell.