I’ve been with Cundall for almost 4 years, first as a Trainee, then a Graduate and now an Engineer. I relocated from Greece to join Cundall’s Newcastle office following the completion of a 5-year degree in Civil & Structural Engineering as both an Educator and a Civil Engineer. During my time here, I have developed experience in Flood Risk Assessments, Drainage Strategies, SuDS, hydraulics, Earthworks and Highway Design. I am now a skilled user of AutoCAD, MicroDrainage and other design/analysis tools. I have benefited from being able to learn from the wealth of technical expertise among my colleagues in Newcastle and around the world. I am also a member of the ICE working towards chartership. I am a determined, intelligent, articulate, ambitious engineer, who happens to be female.
And, it is the “female” part of that description which has exposed me to many challenging situations, behaviours and biases.
I have no desire for special treatment. I have no wish to be given more or less time to complete a task, or more courtesy or respect than my male colleagues. But I do expect to be treated as an equal. I expect to be paid in line with those with whose responsibilities are aligned to my own. When it comes to promotion, I expect to be judged against the same criteria as my male colleagues and for that criteria to be made clear. I expect not to be talked over (or talked for) by colleagues either casually on project or site meetings. I expect colleagues who are not Civil Engineers not to second-guess or question my professional judgement without good reason. I expect to be supported and defended by my manager but held to account if I make a mistake. Not to be the subject of light-hearted “banter” because of my gender, my nationality or my appearance.
Of course, individually, none of these instances are unique to women and not all women face the same levels of bias. Unsurprisingly, research indicates that women who “parrot” stereotypically male traits are more successful in male dominated businesses. I do not believe I should have to adapt to be this “right kind” of women to succeed.
If you are a male reading this and honestly believe that you share my experience, that you do not possess (through no fault of your own) an inherent advantage over me at work or that we really are “equals”, I must respectfully disagree.
I’m pleased to see a growing number of vocal male allies across the business. Men have a leading role to play in influencing positive diversity change in our industry, but the starting point must be acknowledgement of the very real barriers faced by women and minorities. Only our leadership team can drive change in this area and I’m encouraged by the work Cundall is doing within diversity and inclusion to “level the playing field”. This is largely why I feel more comfortable now to speak up about my own experiences than I have previously. I hope others who may relate to what I have to say are also feeling more supported, and comfortable to speak about their experiences and to challenge their colleagues and managers to be respectful and proactively supportive.
Though I may feel like I have had to work slightly harder to get where I am today, and to endure more than I may have if I were “Kevin Kontogiorgi”, it has been absolutely worth it. My determination to succeed in my profession is unshaken, and my goals remain to be an outstanding engineer, to manage and mentor the next generation, and to be a positive and influential role model for both men and women in our business.
To that end, I am pleased to report that I very recently returned from a promising business trip to the Philippines to where I (along with Lee French and Dong Chen) met with prestigious potential clients generated via my own professional networks. This would not have happened if it wasn’t for our Civil Engineering Partner trusting me, and believing in what I have to offer. I’m hopeful for what may come of this meeting, and cautiously optimistic about a more respectful and equitable future for myself and other women in this business and our industry.