VolkerWessels UK's Hollie Woodard Talks Diversity In Engineering
As part of our diversity in engineering series, Morson spoke to Hollie Woodard, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at VolkerWessels UK.
Hollie started her career in rail administration but has changed multiple times since, moving into commercial and a quantity surveyor role and then project management. She reflects on the state of the industry and how things have developed since she started:
"When I started, there were definitely less women in senior roles, so for me there weren't many role models for people who were in roles other than admin or support roles. That's starting to change. In some of our businesses we've got a female head of engineering, a female pre-contracts director. So seeing those people in those roles is something that's definitely changed over the years. We're also seeing more females come in through the apprenticeship and graduate route. For example, in our VolkerRail business we've got female apprentices who are studying the overhead line discipline."
Hollie started her current role in October 2017. It wasn't a role that existed at the company initially, but she worked with the senior management team and directors within the business to devise a role that she felt was required within the business.
"A typical day involves a lot of liasing with other departments like HR, the bid teams, our directors, business MD's and also learning and development. We're looking at the strategy tat we want to implement and how we might want to roll that out to each business unit."
With her career being so varied, Hollie has had to draw on a lot of different skills at different times. When asked what the key skill or attribute required for her current role, she says:
"Passion. If you're passionate, it helps you with the role, helps you deliver it and also explain why it's important to other people. My previous role as a project manager in the rail industry, being often the only female in meetings or on site, has helped me really want to have that passion for wanting to make the picture look quite different in the future. People skills are always useful, along with communication skills. A lot of the new role involves explaining to people and communicating to people in different ways about what the benefit might be to them and to the business and helping them understand that."
Hollie sees her newly created role as one of many steps towards building a different, more diverse working culture.
"We recognise as an industry we need to do things differently. We recognise that we've not got enough people coming into the industry to futureproof and deliver the projects of the future. How can we do things differently to attract people to our industry as a career of choice? There are some campaigns that we're doing with our regular recruitment partners looking at how we change our job adverts, looking at how we change the language in our job adverts for example. That might be things like using gender neutral language, making sure we're not specifying if we need certain years experience to attract more people that might be put off by that."
Hollie would ideally like to see like to see her role become almost not required in terms of trying to bring more females into the industry, but still sees its inception as a new position one of her real highlights:
My biggest achievement in my career would probably be having this role approved by the board! This role didn't exist this time last year and it was a real step change for us to have this position, so to be able to approach the board and be able to ask them to let me drive this forward for our business was a real achievement for me. In additon to that as a project manager and quantity surveyor, earlier on in my career I was recognised by Women in Rail as one of the 20 most inspirational women in rail, which was lovely because I was nominated by my peers. In 2017 I was also shortlisted for the Northern Power Women 'One to Watch' category.