Women delivering Crossrail
Through Crossrail, women are forging careers some never thought possible.
Thank you, everyone, for coming today (19 January 2016).
I’m really pleased to have this chance to celebrate what Crossrail is doing for women.
Or, more accurately, what women are doing for Crossrail.
Often when I tell people that Crossrail is being dug by Sophie, Jessica, Ada, Victoria, Elizabeth, Mary Ellie and Phyllis, they are impressed that we’ve managed to find some female construction workers.
They are wrong, of course.
Those are the names of some of Crossrail’s tunnel boring machines (TBM), named after 8 women important to London’s history.
Yet standing behind those machines, and throughout Crossrail’s 45 construction sites, are thousands of women designing, building and fitting out this great railway.
In every way, Crossrail is breaking new ground.
It’s the largest infrastructure project in Europe.
The most technically challenging.
The most ambitious.
In little over 3 years, working through night and day.
The Crossrail team has dug 26 miles of tunnels under London.
The wider industry has a problem
Yet Crossrail is breaking ground in other ways, too.
As Terry Morgan has always said, Crossrail is more than a transport project.
It’s a blueprint for how infrastructure should be built in the future.
For women in particular, Crossrail is opening doors of opportunity.
Because across the construction industry, only 11% of employees are women, even including those in office-based roles.
Of engineers, only 6% are women.
And of those working in manual or operational roles, women make up a mere 2%.
These figures reflect a world in which women can benefit from new infrastructure, but that they cannot build it.
Whether it was the ‘closed shop’ policies used by the unions to protect male jobs, or the prejudice that says women don’t have what it takes for demanding work, female talent has been underused.
Change cannot come too soon.
Because thanks to massive government investment, the infrastructure industry is set for decades of growth.
Crossrail is just the beginning.
We are also renewing our existing railways and many of our most important stations.
We are investing £15 billion in our roads.
We are building new power stations, the Thames Tideway Tunnel, new flood defences.
And next year we start building HS2 — a project that will do for the country what Crossrail is doing for London.
Together, these projects are creating opportunities for tens of thousands of new infrastructure professionals for decades into the future.
So if we accept the status quo, we will find ourselves excluded from one of the UK’s most important growth industries, and the industry itself will lack the people we need to get the work done.
That is why what Crossrail is doing is so important.
It is leading the way for the whole industry.
Crossrail must now become the model, not just the exception.
And for me, 3 things that Crossrail has done differently stand out.
Changing the face of infrastructure
First, Crossrail is changing the image of infrastructure.
As my colleague Nicky Morgan put it in one of her speeches last year.
For many, a job in construction conjures up an image of a man in a high-vis jacket wearing his trousers slightly lower than is strictly decent.
If women are seen on site at all, they’re in the calendar on the wall of the foreman’s portakabin.
But Crossrail is changing things.
As I’ve seen on my site tours, proper-fitting PPE equipment is provided for men and women — and low-slung jeans aren’t on offer.
Lewd material is banned.
And although the last time we built a railway on the scale of Crossrail the tunnels were dug more by brawn than by brain.
On Crossrail they were dug by Phyllis, Jessica and Sophie and their 5 high-precision, mechanical sisters
And that’s a vital point.
Because although not all projects need a TBM.
Today’s infrastructure construction sites are increasingly-sophisticated places, requiring communication skills, the ability to manage complex projects, team working, and a knack for winning the trust of clients and site neighbours.
They’re all skills that women tend to have in bucket-loads.
Through Crossrail, they’re steadily becoming a hallmark of modern construction.
And when you do get women on board, they can instigate their own changes.
Sometimes the simplest changes are the most powerful.
Such as changes to language.
When I visited the Farringdon site recently, I was escorted by Khouloud El Hakim.
Khouloud shared with me that since Linda Miller has been working as the project manager on the Farringdon tunnel.
She has banned terms such as ‘man rider’, previously used to describe the access lift.
Now it’s just a basket.
A more appealing term all round.
These changes are small, but they start to add up.
They improve how the workplace is perceived…
And make it more welcoming for women.
After changing infrastructure’s image, the second lesson that Crossrail can teach us is on the importance of role models.
Crossrail’s support for initiatives such as National Women in Engineering Day helps make links between women working on Crossrail and girls planning their careers.
In particular, Crossrail used Women in Engineering Day to offer training and speed-networking with women already working in the industry.
And Crossrail certainly has some great role models.
I’ve mentioned Linda Miller and Khouloud El Hakim, but there are thousands like them.
Many of whom echo the words of the inspirational Ground Settlement Engineer who said that:
This has changed my life”.
And you don’t have to be famous to be a role model, either.
Anyone can inspire a friend or relative to consider a new career.
And prove that infrastructure offers jobs for women just like them.
The third lesson we can learn from Crossrail is on the importance of outreach — actively seeking to hire and promote women, but also talking to people who have not yet chosen their careers.
Under the Young Crossrail programme, Ambassadors from Crossrail — of whom over half are women — have visited schools and careers events to promote careers in engineering, construction and railway infrastructure and to influence exam choices leading to careers in these fields.
Crossrail has also offered work experience, and supported contractors on their own school engagement work.
In total, 277 schools, colleges and universities and over 36,000 young people, parents and teachers have been directly engaged by Crossrail.
And in October I visited Farringdon to celebrate a new partnership between Crossrail and Women into Construction.
Women into Construction is a not-for-profit organisation which aims to recruit women into all areas of construction.
And over the last 6 months this partnership has meant 18 women — including some who had never considered careers in construction before — have been placed into roles on Crossrail.
The results of all these changes are clear.
Of those who have undertaken work experience on Crossrail, over a fifth are women.
Of those taking part in Crossrail’s 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.
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.
So it’s great to be able to celebrate what women are doing on this project.
Crossrail is set to change London’s transport landscape.
But it’s already changing lives.
Tonight, I am looking forward to discussing what more we can do.