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Q&A With Emily Atkins, Rail Recruiter, for IWD2022 #BreakTheBias

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Q&A With Emily Atkins, Rail Recruiter, for IWD2022 #BreakTheBias

​This week we are showing our support for International Women’s Day 2022 by sharing some insights into the careers of the women at Carrington West as well as our thoughts on the opportunities for women in engineering in the UK. It is a broad subject, with many different issues to discuss and address, but the aim of these short articles is to ensure we work to maintain awareness of gender equality in the workplace.

 In the first of our articles, we talk to Emily Atkins, a Consultant in the Carrington West rail team. Emily joined the fast growing team in 2020 and has quickly become a go to recruiter for her clients and candidates.

Q.     Emily, technical recruitment does seem to have more male consultants in than women, so how did you end up recruiting in the rail sector?

A.     My partner had been in recruitment when we first met, so that was how I first had an awareness of it. I was in a rut in a previous job where I was stuck at one level and had no chance of progression. My aim was to find a job where the amount of effort and time I put into it was reflected in the rewards, recognition, and job satisfaction. There was also a small part of me that knows sales is a male dominated field so I wanted to do my bit to help the ratio! That led me to looking at recruitment companies, where I then found Carrington West. I didn’t consciously choose which sector I went into, it was just where the role was. I was excited by it and saw it as a challenge as my knowledge base was very low.  

Q.     Do you think of Carrington West as diverse and supportive of women employees?

A.     As a company CW benefits a lot from having diversity, different people have different skills, experiences, with the ability to talk to different people. How can we meet and talk to different people when we don’t have a diverse work force? In general I have never felt unsupported, and I have never noticed a difference between the way women are treated to men. Our culture is friendly and professional, everyone has a great work ethic and tries hard to do their job well and is supported to do their best. At the same time, everyone here are friends and no one is judged/treated differently from each other. We laugh and banter with each other; the fact that some of us are women is irrelevant in our workplace in the best way. Each of us have our own strengths.

Q.     Do you think your industry would benefit from more female candidates?

A.     The rail/engineering industry would definitely benefit from having more female candidates. I know that a lot of companies genuinely do value diversity and want to hire more women, but sometimes female candidates just aren’t there. Different types of people will always bring different and new skills to a team, diversity will never be a disadvantage. 

Q.     You work with professionals in rail every day, what do you think are the barriers to there being more women in engineering/technical roles?

A.     I believe there are several obstacles that women in the engineering sector currently experience, which will also contribute to preventing more women entering the sector. There have been more men than women in engineering historically and I think because of this engineering has been wrongly labelled as a man’s job and society still seems to consider female engineers/those in construction a novelty which perpetuates the problem. From personal experience, I have zero recollection of school even suggesting or pushing engineering as a career option on me and the rest of my female friends. I have spoken to several women in the rail/engineering industry who have voiced their frustration at being in a team/company of mainly men and have experienced discrimination and/or harassment as a direct consequence of being the only woman in their team. Even if they aren’t experiencing discrimination, I have heard many women voice their frustration at a lack of diversity in a management team and do not feel like their point of view is often considered. I asked a female candidate of mine about barriers in the industry, and she said she has found that there is often an assumption that women just don’t have the same knowledge or abilities in engineering as men, especially in civil engineering where she works. With the industry being male dominated, it is wrongly assumed that young women entering the sector are not going to be able to contribute the same way. Another point she noted was that traditionally the engineering sector has long and unsociable hours (more for site work) so those with young children may struggle to get into/progress their engineering career as a result (this can apply to both men and women of course). 

Q.     There are clearly some barriers, what about bias in the sector or the recruitment process?

A.     From my experience, I’ve never noticed my clients having a gender bias, nor seen gender bias in my team here at Carrington West. I believe the main focus needs to be more on treating women more equally once they’re in the workplace and encouraging and empowering more women to get into the industry, or strive to get into more senior roles in companies – the best way for companies to promote diversity is to do. Companies can preach about how much they care about diversity as much as they want, but if their employees do not represent this, it comes across like they are just trying to win points for being diverse without practicing what they preach. My candidate doesn’t think this is down to recruiters as from her experience, we all do our initial phone interviews blindly without preference, we go for skills and experience on a CV and how the individual comes across. I believe that recruiters don’t need to be more diverse when recruiting, so much as to advise and encourage diversity with the clients and businesses we partner with. 

Q.     That’s great, but from what you have said, the sector is still clearly male dominated, so how can recruiters and clients encourage more women into engineering/STEM jobs?

A.     We as recruiters can assist employers to overcome these barriers by ensuring we are diversifying the CVs and candidates we are finding and submitting for roles where we can. The best way to encourage women to get into the industry is by simply reducing the obstacles to them getting there. Remove gendered language from job adverts, make sure we are presenting a diverse selection of CVs where their skills are suitable for the role. I believe trying to have a diverse management team also encourages more women to get into the sector and apply for roles with that company.

My aforementioned candidate suggested that a way to do this was for there to be more instances of women breaking glass ceilings, so more employers giving more opportunities to get into director level in companies without it being tick box exercise. A lot of companies are given diversity targets when bidding for projects. Whilst is a step in the right direction, it is important that women who are hired don’t feel like a number to add to a diversity statistic. The key here is just wanting fair chance to get hired and then promoted. She also mentioned that Network Rail are pushing to do nameless interviews, so they get someone’s CV put in front of them without names (or other personal details such as age or race) so no one knows gender which helps mitigate conscious or unconscious bias in the hiring process. Maybe this is something that would be beneficial if implemented across the industry.

Going through lockdown some companies I worked with gave parents more flexibility to be able to pick up and drop kids to school. This was to support everyone of course, not just women, but if this kind of flexibility in the engineering sector is here to stay then I believe this will enable more women/parents to get into engineering and progress their careers.

Q. Do you have any examples you can share with us of women you work with and their experiences of gender bias?

A. I usually note any and all candidates I get along well with, but I do often take note when I speak with women who have confided their unpleasant experiences with me and who are frustrated with their work place which has happened only because they are women. I’d like to think that women feel like they can confide in me and trust me with these experiences so that I can support them that much better with finding a better role/company for them. Whether they trust me because I am also a woman or just because I’m easy to talk to, I’m not sure. The first step in tackling bias for any group of people is to provide safe spaces for people to talk about it.  

Q. Thank you for your candid responses, ending on a more personal note, would you share with us which women most inspire you?

A. This is going to be a rubbish answer, but I don’t really have any one woman or specific women I look up to. Genuinely I look up to most women as they all have different strengths that I admire. I wouldn’t want to pick anyone out as it almost feels like I’m measuring or comparing women against each other and that isn’t something I want to do. Women in general inspire me!!!!