Property must get its diversity house in order, Dix tells NLA

Wednesday 2 November 2016

London’s development industry needs to ‘fish’ in a deeper, wider recruitment pool to create a better environment in which diversity can flourish and, in turn, to help to create a better city.

So said Crossrail 2 managing director Michèle Dix last night at the NLA as she became the latest speaker in the Inspiring Women series.

Dix, who said part of her independent spirit had probably come from being the middle child of three girls, said that the challenges thrown up by London’s growth in population needed not just the Crossrail 2 project and its catalytic effect on housing, but also to have a much more diverse workforce that better reflects London. ‘The more women we can get and the wider diversity the better it will be for us, and our business cases’, said Dix.

Dix was one of three girls to a father in the RAF and mother in full time work – unusual in the 1960s – and wasn’t in any place longer than three years in her youth. That had contributed to her independent spirit, while her choice of civil engineering as a career was down to her love of maths, science, designing things and transport, furthered with an interest in policy through her PhD. She trained at the GLC, getting her chartered status as a transport planner and revelling in projects including river crossings across the Thames, charging in central London and airport expansion, all of which are still issues today. When the GLC was abolished she went into the private sector until she had kids, when she wanted to go part-time, applying for a full-time post with a friend, ultimately doing the role as a job-share. ‘We filed the application as one person’, she said. ‘We turned up and took it in turns to answer’.

But she became interested professionally in the link between transport and growth, specifically transport stimulating it rather than being reactive, with schemes like the Northern Line Extension and Bakerloo Line extension, and now Crossrail 2. ‘If we get our skates on and get the powers we need we will have it open in the early 2030s’, said Dix of Crossrail 2, ‘and it is needed because London needs a new home every 10 minutes to deal with our growing population’. Crossrail 2 opens up areas of land including in the Upper Lea Valley where more homes can be built, enabling up to 200,000 more, and supporting 200,000 more jobs. It will cost £30bn but generate some £102m net GVA, and its effects will be felt from the Solent to the Wash. ‘But to deliver our plans we need a workforce which reflects London’ said Dix. ‘There’s no point in us fishing in a very narrow pool of blokes. We need to fish in a much wider pool to get as many men and women into the business if we’re going to service the skills required by the industry.’

Currently engineering is 6% women, and transport at TFL 23% women, but this is improving towards a 50% goal, partially through mentoring, programmes and other campaigns. ‘There’s a business need to get more women into the industry’, said Dix. ‘And there’s a business need to get a more diverse representation.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 

NLA's Inspiring Women series is sponsored by Mount Anvil and supported by Conisbee.

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