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Time to measure female leadership in infrastructure project delivery

Future Cities Forum's Co-founder Heather Fearfield interviews HS1 CEO Dyan Crowther about new rail routes through Europe and raising female leadership in infrastructure project delivery.

What are the current measures needed to raise the number of female leaders in infrastructure? Future Cities Forum discussed the issue of gender and diversity across infrastructure leadership, at our recent 'Infrastructure 2020' forum in the City of London.

HS1 CEO, Dyan Crowther, spoke of a lack of serious debate in the boardroom around raising the number of women to leadership positions and insisted that proper measures should now be taken.

Over recent years, academics (The Bartlett, UCL) have stated that the numbers of women coming through STEM careers has been increasing, but at a slow rate. They criticise the continued influence of 'group think' and the policy of 'fixing women to fit', part of failing to challenge 'masculinist' culture. They insist that one of the important questions to ask is why women are continuing to leave the project delivery profession?

At Future Cities Forum, HS1 CEO Dyan Crowther, stated:

'An awful lot of boards don’t take diversity seriously enough. I have never been a fan of quotas but the Davies Report said - a couple of years ago - that if we continue at the current rate we will only get gender parity on boards in 2070!

'I am a big fan of the mantra ‘if it doesn’t get measured it doesn’t get done’. As long as we continue with the softly-softly stuff nothing will change. There’s an element of put some quotas in and you may get change. Until you change the attitude around the board table it will never change.'

In January, Nick Smallwood, the Chief Executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority raised awareness that more needs to be done to increase the number of senior female leaders in the infrastructure profession. Delivering a speech (28th January) which included discussion of diversity he said:

'As the Cabinet Office Talent Champion and Gender Equality Champion for the Project Delivery Profession, I know that nurturing our people is of primary importance...Project Delivery is a growing profession and interest in it has surged in recent years...we have focussed on attracting, developing and retaining project delivery professionals from all backgrounds.

'This is reflected in the strong representation of women we now have across the profession and the encouraging diversity of our early talent programmes. But we still have more to do to increase female representation at senior grades, although we have more female leaders at that level than elsewhere in the private sector.'

At Future Cities Forum's event, Transport for London's Director of City Planning, Alex Williams admitted that there is still a problem around numbers of senior female leaders in the' male-dominated engineering profession' while recognising what TfL has achieved:

'My Commissioner is passionate about changing the lack of gender balance and diversity at TfL in senior positions. You need to identify capable and bright female leaders.

We have done that at TfL and we now have them in leadership positions - on the bus network, on sponsorship, on the renewables programme. We have a lot that were not there three years back.'

Future Cities Forum will be following this issue closely this year and carrying out vital research through interviews and discussion panels. Content will be made available online.

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