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Bridging the gender diversity gap in engineering with Janice Li

We spoke to Arcadis' Rail and Transit Market Sector Leader ahead of International Women in Engineering Day

In 2014, the Women’s Engineering Society began a campaign to highlight the achievements of female engineers in the UK. Almost a decade on, the initiative has grown hugely, and is now marked across the globe on 23 June as International Women in Engineering Day (INWED). As the one platform of its kind, INWED does invaluable work in promoting the visibility of women engineers, who are still vastly underrepresented; 2021 figures from Engineering UK note that just 16.5% of engineers in the UK are female.


To celebrate INWED, as well as to discuss ways to increase diversity in engineering, our Senior Transport & Logistics Consultant, Gov Kandola, was thrilled to welcome Janice Li to the Venari Podcast. Janice has a degree in industrial engineering, and plenty of field experience in the rail sector. Now, as Arcadis’ Rail & Transit Market Sector Leader for North America, she has a direct vantage point from which to observe how her industry is changing to become more inclusive – while noting the progress that still needs to be made.


 


 


From Lego to industrial engineering and beyond

Janice was drawn to building things as a child and loved playing with Lego. At school, she would always choose options that involved projects instead of writing papers, and her curiosity for making objects initially led her to consider architecture as a career. Eventually, her natural aptitude for maths combined with her love of building drew Janice towards engineering – specifically, industrial engineering, after her mother suggested it. ‘When I looked into it, fitting things together, making things work [...] That’s kind of industrial engineering in general,’ she notes. ‘I think that’s where I find my passion and niche.’


Janice began her career working for Amtrak, working in their railcar and locomotive maintenance and facility programme, before moving into consulting roles in the private sector. Over the course of 25 years, Janice has worked on a wide range of management and technical programmes both in the US and internationally. Now, she is increasingly focused on transit market sectors, presenting Arcadis’ clients ‘with better mobility solutions’.


Developing talent

Another key aspect of Janice’s role is helping younger staff to grow – not least, trying to increase the number of female leaders in sectors that overlap with engineering. She notes that ‘a lot of effort has been put in’, but that making sure these initiatives remain an ongoing process is key. ‘There is definitely a lot of support, policy, goals, targets being set,’ Janice says, with companies showing much more discipline in targeting hiring, launching programmes and upskilling training to attract female engineering candidates – but this is only part of the picture. ‘When you get them in, how do we retain them, how to continue to build that pipeline?’


Addressing the issues

Decision-makers in transport design and policy are usually menthough in many areas women are the majority users of public transport, and do not see their experiences and circumstances reflected. There needs to be a push to develop future talent and help the end user – and Arcadis are taking steps to reflect this, with policies enacted from the C-suite across the entire company. For example, in 2022 they exceeded their goal for 30% of employees to be female. This year, the target is 40%, and they’re already at 39%; furthermore, Arcadis’ executive leadership team is currently a 60-40 split between females and males.


Separately, last year the firm launched a programme specifically for women of colour, who are underrepresented in the field; they also have five different affinity groups representing different races, ethnicities, cultures, and genders. As a company, Arcadis also ensure to provide ‘upscale trainings when there are promotions [and] openings available’, making sure that supervisors, managers, and leadership teams know how to advocate for female talent on their journey from junior to mid-level and senior executive roles.


Practical experience is key

Janice would love for there to be more hands-on opportunities to help younger generations that might be leaning towards studying sciences – not just at university, but at secondary level, too. She can speak from experience here: her two daughters are both studying STEM subjects, though Janice admits that she can’t take the credit. Despite Janice trying to encourage them to consider engineering, it was only on trying a manufacturing class in her junior year of high school that one of her girls discovered her love for product design. Janice believes that going through the process of discovery, and letting people find things out for themselves, is crucial to engender a love of engineering: ‘It does take a village to really build in the pipeline for more women’s interest in engineering.’


We are passionate about helping transport companies with talent and DEI solutions – please reach out if you would like to find out more.



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