8 March 2022 | Collaboration | Our Work

International Women’s Day 2022: Susan Halliwell – Executive Director, Place at West Berkshire Council

To mark International Women’s Day 2022, Susan Halliwell – Executive Director, Place at West Berkshire Council talks to the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) about the positive work being done to create a more diverse sector.


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

A. “Over the years I think diversity is improving in the highways sector, but these things don’t happen overnight. At grass roots we should be encouraging young people from all backgrounds to explore the opportunities that exist in this sector, and not pigeon hole their ambitions too quickly. We should also recognise the breadth of the skills and background that actually add value to what the sector delivers. We need project managers, communications specialists and as the sector transforms we need more and more the innovators, disrupters, software specialists in addition to the traditional highways technical specialists roles.”


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

A. “I think I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I’ve had the odd patronising comment, but in general I’ve worked in very supportive organisations. I think that’s at the heart of it – a positive culture and choosing the right culture where you’ll thrive. That’s easier said than done, but it’s as much about finding out about who you are as a person as it is about finding the right organisation to work for.”


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

A. “Recognise that what has gone before needs to change, but don’t be apologetic for being part of the solution to net zero. In so doing I think the industry, and we’re already seeing it, can open up to new opportunities that can leap frog some of its long standing issues including diversity. If we take a truly net zero approach then we won’t need to ‘think outside the box’, because there won’t be one!”


Q. Will you be doing anything to mark International Women’s Day?

A. “Last year I did a short video promoting the day saying that I ‘put my hand up’. This year is more about celebrating groups and individuals in the community that have supported and enabled women to thrive.”


Q. What’s your message to any young women who may be considering a career in highways? 

A. “Go for it. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t try something you’ll never know. I think it was Einstein that once said something along the lines of people who don’t fail are the ones that don’t do anything.”


Q. What is the scale of the network that your authority is responsible for?

A. “West Berkshire is always described as a ‘small unitary council’ with 1,300km of network, and has some fascinating challenges looking ahead. With 74% designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty it has a strong rural identity but sits at the strategy cross roads between the M4 running east/west and A34 running north/south.”


Q. What are the biggest challenges facing you as a local authority?

A. “Climate change and the race to net zero.”


Q. How much importance is put on innovation within your authority and in what ways can it enable change?

A. “West Berkshire is a quiet crusader. In a past role at Oxfordshire County Council we had a team dedicated to innovation, the iHUB. West Berkshire doesn’t have this level of capacity but that hasn’t stopped it. The culture of the organisation is very can-do, which means innovation quite often flows without us realising it.”

“Innovation itself won’t necessarily effect long term change but fundamentally we need to look at the ‘solution opportunities’ to ensure we take the sector into the next generation of connectivity. ”


Q. How important is the subject of the environment and what are you doing as an authority in this area?  

A. “For me it is ‘the’ priority and is core to the Council’s strategy. It has set itself the ambitious target of net zero by 2030, both for its own operations and for the district as well. We have numerous projects being taken forward including investing in solar, active travel and energy efficiency across our estate. We’re also making sure long term policies and plans require net zero. It’s hard at the moment as we know this will come with a price tag – but we paid for ourselves to be in this position so we’ll have to pay for ourselves to get out of it!”


Q. In terms of funding for roads, what works well and what needs to be improved? 

A. “What needs to be improved? Can I say all of it? I know it’s difficult but I think we need to rethink the model to incentive investment into net zero, and that’s about addressing embodied carbon (that’s part of it), its about reprioritising our investment and reshaping the model of how we connect. Focusing on demand management and model shift  – not necessarily building new roads.”


Q. How important is the role of LCRIG in driving change within the sector?

A. “Very. It’s more important than ever before to share and collaborate. LCRIG represents a sector that is part of the net zero solution which cannot be delivered in isolation!”


Susan Halliwell is a panellist for the upcoming event ‘Practical steps on the journey to net zero: Understanding the challenge’ which is being delivered by the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) in association with Colas and Breedon.

The launch event takes place on 22nd March at 11am.

You can find out more information about the event and register here.