23 June 2021 | Innovation | Collaboration

Making a difference

To mark International Women in Engineering Day today (23 June) and as a continuation of LCRIG’s series of interviews shining a light on women in highways, Content Director Alec Peachey caught up with two senior members of staff at Derby City Council.  

Kiley Cudworth (KC) – Senior Asset Management Technician (pictured left) and Amy Durrant (AD) – Senior Asset Management Technician (pictured right) – highlight some of the challenges that need to be overcome to address the lack of diversity in the sector and what they’re doing to drive change.  

 

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

KC/AD: “We need to encourage gender diversity in the sector and we can do this by attracting and recruiting diverse genders to the industry, making steps to retain those members of staff by developing and guiding them onto a defined career path.

“This can be done through publicising positive role models of all genders within the sector, particularly to young people in school who are beginning to make decisions for their future careers. Having an inspiring female leader has certainly encouraged me to progress in my career.

“Studies have found that if a job role requires qualifications and essential criteria, women are a lot less likely than men to apply for the job, if they don’t meet all the criteria. A solution to this is to remove the requirement of qualifications (where possible) and encourage more on the job training and development, which is how I was able to progress in my career.

“Encouraging flexible working and adapting to employees change in circumstances across all genders will attract more people to an organisation and sector. Having parental policies in place which are encouraging of flexible working across all genders is likely to attract more variety of people to an industry.”

  

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

AD: “I have not experienced any particular challenges within my team because of my gender. The challenges I have experienced have been from people external to the organisation and are likely as a result of unconscious gender bias. An example is when I’ve been training male colleagues out on site and we meet a customer, the assumption is made by the customer that the male trainee is the experienced member of staff and will therefore direct the conversation to them instead of me. Or when speaking to a customer on the phone they believe I am an admin person relaying a message, rather than the actual investigating officer with technical experience. This however has never held me back.”

  

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

KC/AD: “The industry can promote itself by using positive gender diverse role models as examples. Lean less towards people having prior experience and more towards giving people a development opportunity when in post.”

  

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

AD: “From personal experience I feel that my team has done everything it can to develop women into more senior roles, but I do think more could be done overall in the industry to attract different genders to the sector.”

  

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

AD: “I hope that I can be an example and positive role model to other women and show how anyone can develop and train to become skilled in the industry, no matter what their educational or work background is. Qualifications in the industry are important but not essential from the get go, these can be gained on the job. It also doesn’t require experience on the manual work side of highways. Development of existing staff is key, giving them opportunities to learn new skills used within senior roles. This is why I am in the leadership role I am in today and I hope my experience can inspire others.”

 

Q. How has your highways team adapted to the challenges brought about by Covid-19? 

AD: “Our biggest challenge brought about by Covid-19 is having to find different ways to work together. The requirement to social distance and work from home has meant we have had to change the way we complete some of our duties and in some respects provide a higher level of service to adapt, for example replacing our two-person driven inspections with a more frequent one person walked inspection which is far more time consuming. During full lockdown we were able to take advantage of the quieter network and carry out more larger scale work in our most traffic sensitive locations. Like with most other industries we have also had to adapt to different ways of communicating with others, relying heavily of the likes of Microsoft Teams and Skype. A positive to this is this efficient nature of meetings and training courses have reduced the time spent traveling.”

 

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

KC: “Innovation is a very important aspect within our sector, whereby we are seeking different ways to reduce our carbon footprint through use of warm mix and cold applied materials as well as the use of green energy in our fleet. Our technology is ever evolving so identifying means of capturing good data using artifical intelligence.”

  

Q. In what ways do you collaborate with other authorities and the supply chain? 

AD: “We collaborate with other authorities and carry out benchmarking with them when reviewing processes and policies, as well as to seek advice and share ideas by drawing on their experience. We also collaborate on projects where there is a shared ownership of a street on the boundary of neighbouring authorities. We take advantage of road closures they may have in place and vice versa.”

KC: “We identify ways to which the supply chain can showcase their products on our highway network for case studies when promoting their products nationwide whilst using innovative materials identifying the right treatments for the right street at the right time in our asset management approach and lifecycle planning.”

  

The journey so far

Kully Boden, Interim Head of Service (Highways) at Derby City Council, recruited Kiley and Amy in April this year. Here, she reflects on the reasons why she took the pair on and their journey so far. 

“Amy started in highways admin support and then became a Highway Inspector in 2011.  She felt now was the time to challenge herself and reach out for a new opportunity.

“Kiley started at DCC as a civil parking enforcement officer and moved over to be a highway inspector in 2014, moving onto a technician role three years later.

“Both showed real aptitude and a hunger to take on more learning in the highways team. Their passion to make a difference in the workplace and mentor their fellow colleagues is witnessed by me every day. They are going to have a long career in highways, hopefully with an authority like Derby who provide great opportunities to showcase their talent. Both are starting leadership apprenticeships in September which will make them even stronger women in the engineering world.”