UK: Women in Crossrail

Image courtesy of Network Rail

Women in Crossrail

Crossrail is the worlds largest infrastructure project being undertaken at the moment. It is also one of the most technically challenging and ambitious. But of all the ways the project is breaking ground, it is not by boring 26 miles of tunnels through London, but rather by encouraging women into engineering roles.


Rail Minister Claire Perry gave a speech on 19 January 2016 which detailed the ways in which the unprecedented spending on infrastructure in the UK at the moment offers opportunities for women to take jobs in construction and engineering like no other. Crossrail has pioneered the role of women in infrastructure projects.

Women in Construction and Engineering Roles

Tunnel boring machines (named Sophie, Jessica, Ada, Victoria, Elizabeth, Mary Ellie and Phyllis, incidentally) mean that engineering has moved from a brute force to a cerebral profession, which gives women the opportunity to compete on a fair playing field, bringing with them essential skills such as communication, project management, teamwork and client and customer relations.

Crossrail has implemented minor but far reaching changes, from banning lewd material such as pin-up girls in the foremans office, to the relabeling of a man rider to basket. These changes may seem minor, but they make sites  less exclusive of women.

Initiatives such as Women in Engineering Day give girls and young women role models who work in STEM fields, enabling them to visualise themselves in similar roles. Crossrails support of the day gave prospective female engineers the opportunity to meet and network with women on the project.

Crossrail actively sought to hire and promote women and also, as part of the Young Crossrail Programme, to send teams of ambassadors from Crossrail out into schools, colleges and universities. Half of these ambassadors are women. The Partnership with Women into Construction, a not-for-profit organisation which promotes womens roles into all areas of construction, has enabled 18 women to be placed into roles on Crossrail.

Rail Minister Claire Perry said:

Of those who have undertaken work experience on Crossrail, over a fifth are women. Of those taking part in Crossrails graduate programme, many of whom will go on to be the future leaders of the industry, women make up almost a quarter. And in total, of the 10,000 people working on Crossrail, nearly one third are women.
So through Crossrail, women are forging careers they never thought possible. Achieving things that would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. Yet for all the thousands of individual women for whom Crossrail has opened doors, it is also having a much wider effect on attitudes and on society. Crossrail is proving that a project can reach out to female talent not despite the challenge of running to time and budget, but in order to run to time and budget.

Women hold up half the sky, they make up 50% of the population and 50% of the workforce . They bring with them essential skills that enrich any working environment for both men and women.

STEM fields, which have traditionally alienated women for many and various reasons, are now opening up to that half of the workforce . By making the most of the opportunities provided by Crossrail and other large-scale infrastructure projects, and if trends continue as they have in the last five years, it will not be long before women are building half of what stands beneath the sky too.

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