The number of women in positions of responsibility in the construction industry remains low today. However, although there is still work to be done, it is not all doom and gloom: steps are being taken in the right direction. In this line, we have interviewed one of those women who wants to stop being an exception: Claire Rutowski is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Bentley Systems, world-renowned infrastructure engineering software company. She leads the company’s global IT organization, shaping and delivering a technology agenda across Bentley’s global business. She has received numerous awards, most notably Constructech’s Top 50 Women in Construction. With her, we x-ray the progress that women have made in recent years in the sector, the challenges they still face, as well as the measures that should be actively taken to ensure real gender diversity.
- How have you seen the presence of women evolve in a position like yours since you started in this sector?
I am fortunate that my work and experience have led me to my CIO role—and I love it. But if I’m honest, it hasn’t always been gender-equal. It still isn’t. When I started as a chief information officer (CIO) in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, only 4% of CIOs in the top 500 AEC firms were women. I was definitely “different.”
- With reference to this issue, what signs of change do you see around you?
There are more women than ever before. The average percentage of female CIOs within AEC has increased to nearly 17%. The total percentage of female CIOs in the Fortune 500 is now 20%. It’s a minority, but it’s five times better than it was. I see far more women CIOs in AEC firms, attending conferences and participating in Women in AEC organizations to network and gain support.
- How do you think diversity should be promoted in the AEC industry? What specific measures do you think companies could take to ensure (and be able to maintain) the presence of women in their workforce?
We need to support global women’s groups, such as IEEE Women in Engineering and Women in Technology International, as well as unconscious bias training so that everyone gets a fair shot during interviews. Once we do hire women, we must make things inclusive and welcoming: provide flexible work schedules, form mentoring groups, and regularly ensure equity in pay and advancement.
- What measures do you think should be promoted to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers?
As an industry, we need to support events like Future City and International Girls in ICT Day, as well as groups like Girls Who Code. These initiatives will introduce girls to technology early on. We need to educate and show girls and young women how all-encompassing the AEC industry truly is and get them excited about infrastructure technology and engineering.
- Do you think that the number of women in the sector is increasing, or do you think there is still a lack of visibility?
Women in the sector are definitely increasing, and having a diverse workforce leads to better decision-making and team dynamics. In fact, 22.5% of all Fortune 500 board directors are women. Numerous studies have concluded that diverse representation produces increased profits. There are more perspectives to consider, which leads to increased creativity, more innovation, and faster problem-solving.
- In this line, you yourself were awarded with the Construtech’s Top 50 Women in Construction Award. What did this recognition mean to you?
I was, and still am, incredibly proud of that recognition. Having this award confirms that there are women out there in the industry making a difference. As someone in a currently minority position, a woman in AEC, I feel that I have an obligation to do it right and serve as a role model for others more junior in their careers. This award validated me as a woman and a leader in the AEC industry.
- Finally, can you tell us what measures Bentley Systems is taking to promote gender diversity?
Bentley Systems has had a long-term program to work towards gender equity in pay. We have also created the Bentley Network of Women to provide a safe place for conversation on specific issues, such as imposter syndrome, etc. Also, last year, we launched IDEA—the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Alliance—to promote diversity and inclusion of all kinds.