Why International Women’s Day is a landmark in the Ricardo calendar

Why International Women’s Day is a landmark in the Ricardo calendar
08 March 2022

We must never stop striving for diversity, equity and inclusion says Claire Ruggiero, UK Consulting Business Manager & Head of Strategy and Service Development, Ricardo Rail

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘breaking the bias’, as we strive for a world free of stereotypes and discrimination and that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

The Day enables us to celebrate the brilliant women already within Ricardo. It is also an opportunity to reflect on how we create pathways into engineering for those from different backgrounds or with non-traditional life and career experiences. Engineering should not be closed off to those who decide not to go to university, for example, or don’t have access to professional networks.

My education and career path were relatively conventional. I gained a Masters then a PhD in Chemical Engineering, which is a different study area to many of my engineering colleagues at Ricardo. My first jobs were in risk and safety within high-hazard industries such as oil, gas and petrochemicals. I transferred these skills into the defence and nuclear sectors then moved into the rail industry. I joined Ricardo Rail around 18 months ago as Head of Strategy and Service Development and have since taken more of an operational role as UK Consulting Business Manager.

When I was a young engineer, I didn’t encounter any specific barriers to my career progression.

Looking back, however, I can see that I did face challenges around cultural fit – being the only woman on a project team or in a meeting, for example. Engineering was long perceived as a men’s profession and there was a tendency to try and mirror behaviours in a male-dominated environment which made it harder for me to be myself.

From where I stand now, I believe there are many more opportunities for women wanting a career in engineering. Almost 15 per cent of all engineers are female and we’ve seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of women in engineering occupations since 2016. However, there is definitely more to do and we should not be complacent. We also need to consider other aspects of encouraging a diverse workforce and not focus purely on gender.

Ricardo is helping to drive change in a number of ways. We launched our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council around a year ago to draw together colleagues representing all facets of diversity from every part of the business. The Council and other employee-led groups across Ricardo’s global network ensure senior leadership can hear as wide a range of perspectives as possible and that difference is celebrated.

I joined the Council because having a genuinely open environment, where people at all levels can challenge each other and find a safe space for difficult conversations, is vital to recruit and retain great people and create a collaborative working environment. We’ve now got a shadow DEI Council group within Ricardo Rail, with an equally diverse membership.

We also have a newly established women’s affinity group who offer a support network and take challenges or improvement ideas to the DEI Council or senior management. Some of the important topics we’re currently discussing are the shape of workplaces following the pandemic; the impact of work on women’s mental and physical health and the work-life balance; and the challenges faced by women returning to work after a long period of absence.

Ricardo is using International Women’s Day as a focus for raising awareness. Internally, there’s a wellbeing theme running throughout March and we’re asking everyone to share the stories of women in their lives who have inspired them, using the hashtag #inspiringwomen.

Externally, the annual Ricardo Engineering Prize encourages talented female engineering students by recognising their technical achievements, ability to solve complex problems and communication skills. The company also offers the winner a work placement to help them take a positive first step in a professional engineering career.

Sometimes, however, you have to overcome preconceptions within your own family. When my kids were very young and I’d moved into the rail sector, they bizarrely decided that I was the person wheeling the refreshment trolley up and down the aisle and they’d be able to eat as much chocolate as they liked if they did my job when they grew up. I’m pleased to say that one of them is now studying physics at university!

If you're interested in a career full of exciting opportunities, visit Ricardo's career pages