Ground & Water Principal Engineer, Alice Tettmar, pens an open letter to the construction industry, calling for change and highlighting the responsibility workplaces and individuals have to facilitate this.
When tasked with writing this week’s blog, originally due to be on the importance of communication, I found it difficult to write about anything other than what’s consumed our news and social media feeds for several days: events that have highlighted the societal norms that have encroached into our lives as women… Ensuring our safety, really is “up to us”! So consider this an open letter if you will. It is inspired by the conversations I recently shared with colleagues and friends and hopefully, will shed some light on the steps Ground & Water actively takes, to ensure the safety of both its male and female workforce, as well as stimulating a conversation to ask…Actually are we doing enough? Do we need to do more?
Picture this. It’s 1am on Saturday 13th March 2021. The Zoom work “social” is our new norm, and after the obligatory quiz and general chatting, the conversation turns to current events. Sadly, the events of the Reclaim the Streets vigil and the movement to make our streets safer for women, strikes close to home for many of us. Fuelled by one too many glasses of wine, it sparks an empowering, open and honest conversation about how this affects each of us, male and female.
It would be difficult to write a blog post like this, without openly stating that women in the engineering and construction industry, do experience some form of sexual harassment and/or microaggressions, while going about their day to day role. Despite anything that myself or my female colleagues have experienced, we are extremely fortunate to be in a company that truly cares about our wellbeing and provides a platform where we can openly discuss any issues.
Ground & Water, can boast an above average male team/female team ratio than our industry standard. Something I spoke in detail about on my previous blog post (https://groundandwater.co.uk/blogs/women-in-engineering-lets-talk-about/).
Since this published, we are proud to say that our Period Pledge is well and truly up and running. We provide free sanitary products for all at the office – although home working means we cannot fully utilise – as well as providing them in our company vehicles and site boxes. That blog post sparked a truly empowering conversation. I had emails from fellow engineers that we had worked with and LinkedIn messages from clients. They all spoke up about the importance of addressing such an issue as period poverty and the role we all have to play to ensure equality within the construction industry.
Ground & Water’s leadership team is 60% female, a woman is one half of the director team. This is in stark contrast to the EU’s average of 30% of leadership boards being female. This creates a powerful and engaging platform, where we are all encouraged to speak up and be vulnerable with each other, which in turn creates an environment for change. Our Director Dipalee Jukes, recently did a talk with WES (Women in Engineering Society) about her experiences with leadership and the growth mindset she has adopted, to see her through the difficulties of the past year.
Ground & Water is also extremely fortunate that all team members, male and female, share the same values and are all striving for equality, from director level downwards. A team that says it’s ok to shout about and debate the issues we see emerge on a daily basis. Not just gender equality, but anything from Black Lives Matter, the issues within the Royal Family and the mental health epidemic. This sort of platform for discussion, isn’t just led by having a female workforce; but a workforce that no matter its gender, is open to these conversations and encourages personal development.
Although the news this week has been heavy with horror stories and reports of alleged injustice focused on females, I believe one positive that has come out of the recent events, is opening ourselves up to honest, often uncomfortable, conversations about female safety and this has given us an opportunity to critically review – both individually and as a company that boasts an above average female workforce – whether we are doing enough to ensure the safety of our female workers in an industry like construction and engineering?
Lone working is necessary within the geoenvironmental and geotechnical engineering sector. Examples are ground-gas monitoring visits and site walkovers. However we have a buddy system in place that ensures we know the whereabouts of our technicians and engineers. We are also hoping to roll out the similar notion but in app form.
We will conduct a review of our subcontractors to ensure we are always working with teams that share similar values to us, we refer to them as our 10A’s. We will be looking into whether alarms are needed for the site teams, both in the vans or in their site boxes, just in case. And we will look at ways of ensuring our company fleet is safe, by allowing us to easily know the whereabouts of the vehicles – and the team – if we ever need to.
Events reported by the media can often be diluted and lose their meaning and significance, when it comes to how we make impactful change within our workplaces. But as long as we use them to self-reflect and influence our own behaviours, systemic change can happen. Something that Ground & Water always strives to do.