6 July 2021 | Collaboration

Industry interview: Delivering change in the sector

LCRIG is shining a light on women in highways. This week, Helen Blood discusses the progress that has been made around making the industry more attractive and outlines the importance of communication when it comes to delivering change.


Q. What needs to be done to address the lack of diversity in the sector?

A. “I’m pleased to see a lot of good work going on in the sector when it comes to diversity nowadays, and I mean across the board. We need to continue to build on what has been done in recent years and make the industry more attractive to everyone. We have a resource shortage full stop so now is not the time to be excluding people and a diverse workforce brings many benefits with new ideas and different approaches to delivery. To attract a diverse workforce into the industry we also have to be clear how diverse we already are and draw on and tell the stories of all the good work we have done as an industry in this area. Unless we tell people, they won’t know. Whilst we do this, we have to continue to move forwards and challenge ourselves and each other as we go.”


Q. Are there any particular challenges you’ve had to overcome as a woman in highways?

A. “I think I’m lucky as I’ve not really had any challenges as a woman in highways but then I’m not at the coal face. I do think it’s imperative that you know your subject and spend time understanding the industry to build your credibility but that should apply no matter who you are. It can be quite nerve wracking when you’re the only female in the room and I have been in many meetings where I am just that. Conferences too, there was a time when I’d be one of two or three in a room of 200-300 and more but that has definitely changed. I started in the industry over 25 years ago, it’s still male dominated but there are so many more women in a wide variety of roles now and long may that continue so we create a balance.”


Q. How can the industry be better at promoting itself to more diverse groups?

A. “We need to demonstrate the wide variety of roles that exist in our industry, it’s easy for people to think of what they see and our industry is only visible to the public when they see us out on the road (generally causing disruption in their eyes). It has been great to see the amount of differing apprenticeships and graduate schemes the sector is advertising nowadays. I’m based in the West Midlands and see a lot from TfWM/WMCA and a friend’s son is doing a marketing & comms apprenticeship there and loves it. I’ve recently advertised a number of Graduate opportunities for one of my clients, Clearview Intelligence, including software development and project coordination and we have a really diverse selection of applicants which is brilliant. Working with different organisations to help us promote ourselves to more diverse groups is a key part of the process too.”


Q. Has the industry got better at promoting women into more senior roles? What more needs to be done?

A. “I think so, yes. As mentioned above, I’ve seen a big shift in recent years. However, I do believe you promote the right person for the role no matter what. I think we are seeing more women in senior roles because they now have the confidence to push themselves, organisations being open to it helps us all to feel like we can. It’s great to see women in leadership roles within industry organisations too, such as Rachel Skinner becoming President of the ICE and Amanda Fisher taking up the role of Chief Executive at Amey, and there are many others making a real difference in every business in the sector. This is a big message to everyone in the industry and they’re brilliant role models for others.


Q. In what ways do you hope to help women who aspire to be champions within the highways industry? 

A. “I always try and play my part, I stand up in that room full of men and ask the questions I want to ask, I support my clients and their social value activities in relation to diversity by going into schools and colleges to encourage girls to consider roles in our sector, to think about civil engineering or project management as well as the type of work I do which is always seen as the ‘softer skills’. I am always happy to share my industry knowledge and offer support to the women I see doing good things in our sector, even if that’s just liking or commenting on a LinkedIn post – every little helps and we can all be part of the solution. I’m also a member of Women in Transport, I’d like to be more hands on in the group but time doesn’t allow me at the moment, one day I will but in the meantime I follow and engage where I can and they’re doing a lot for women across the transport sector.


Q. Are there any recent projects you’ve been working on that you are particularly excited about?

A. “Well, obviously there’s my new marketing and PR business with Adrian Tatum which is purely focused on the highways and transport sector – Boundary Marketing & PR. The other one is talk-mobility which is a forum-based platform to help the industry to communicate and support one another. It’s free and easy to use – we just need more people to get involved so we can build a community and make the platform work as it was intended – for the community, by the community. People can sign up at www.talk-mobility.org and dive right in and get involved. Now we have Boundary off the ground, I’ll be focusing more on talk-mobility which is also not-for-profit so I’m relying on industry organisations like LCRIG to support and share this one with members and the wider industry.”


Q. What do you think the sector might look like in 2030?

A. “Good question, when I look back over the part decade, I sometimes wonder how far we’ve come but then I look at the changes in technology and new organisations like LCRIG and Safer Highways and I think we’re really pushing forward from all angles – from data and understanding the use of our networks to mental health and road worker safety, from new approaches to surface treatments to the advent of connected and autonomous vehicles – it’s going to be an exciting time and I look forward to seeing how it all pans out (I’ll still be here hopefully as retirement is some way off yet!). I’d like to think that as an industry we might be achieving more in the way of engaging the public to better understand why we do what we do and the complexities behind a lot of the schemes we implement. However, I also think that means we need to communicate more effectively and ensure high standards across the industry, so that everyone both inside and outside the sector understands what we do and more importantly why we do it.”


Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

A. “Since going self-employed in 2016, I’ve worked with a wide variety of organisations in the sector and that has only increased over the last 12 months as more and more people recognise the importance of communication. I’d like to think it’s a positive that has come from Covid-19 and lockdown – we have all embraced remote working and the various methods of digital communication. This will help us as an industry as together we can raise the profile not only of our individual businesses but also the industry as a whole. Communication needs to be seen as an investment, not a cost or box ticking exercise, done properly it adds significant value to any business and to the sector you operate in. As an industry we didn’t stop for Covid, our workforces were seen as keyworkers, we kept the country moving because it is what we do and we should celebrate that every day whilst continuing to innovate and deliver what most people take for granted every day…”