What’s the best way to promote parity in engineering schools? Some thoughts from Joël Cuny, Managing Director of ESTP

Joël Cuny is the Managing Director of ESTP, an engineering school that trains the largest number of executives in France in the field of construction and development of the living environment. In this interview, Joël discusses the policy of inclusion and gender diversity at his school, in conjunction with VINCI Construction: such a commitment is necessary to promote parity and shape the future of the construction sector.

Can you introduce the ESTP and its philosophy? How does it work with VINCI Construction?

The ESTP is an engineering school that celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2021! It trains engineering students to work in the construction and infrastructure sector via two main missions: training and research.

Our school is multi-campus: we have a primary campus in Cachan, another in Troyes since 2017, and a third campus in Orléans, which will open in 2019.

In total, 3,200 students are learning at the ESTP, and approximately 1,000 graduates each year are entering the construction and infrastructure sector.

And VINCI Construction is a very committed partner of ESTP, particularly in the areas of recruitment and promoting young talent in the construction and infrastructure sector: a key issue in the challenges of transition, with considerable business activity and a significant need for skills!

VINCI Construction therefore has a strong presence at the school, through sponsorships and professional involvement, in support of teaching for an entire academic year of 700 engineers on a number of themes of future importance to the sector, such as BIM (Building Information Modeling).

This is a key working relationship to support and facilitate the integration of our students into the construction sector.

What is ESTP doing to promote the recruitment of female engineering students?

The school is committed to making progress on this subject, which is central to our companies’ thinking and of key importance to the challenges faced by the construction and infrastructure sector. For us, the key to success is recruitment.

We now have 29% female students and apprentices. That’s still not enough, but there has been clear progress over the last 30 years. Thirty years ago, only 7% of our engineering graduates were female, so we are making progress – but it is still too slow.

We are facing a problem that needs to be solved at society level: how do we ensure that young girls take up scientific studies?

Engineering training has prerequisites, which are scientific in nature. Today, we have a recruitment pool which does not contain enough female candidates: this is true not only for ESTP, but also for all engineering schools!

ESTP is also involved with numerous companies and associations (such as “Elles Bougent” or “Femmes ingénieuses”) to change the dynamic as early as middle school: this is when career choices begin to take shape.

The second issue I have identified is: how do we get the construction sector to open up to issues that make it more attractive to female talent, and therefore more equitable?

Why are initiatives such as “ESTP au féminin” important in attracting women to engineering schools and the construction sector?

“ESTP au féminin” is a flagship initiative run by ESTP Alumni, which promotes the careers of female engineers who have graduated from the school.

This proactive approach is important because it is a way of challenging the status quo, encouraging a certain number of women graduates of the school to put themselves forward and spotlighting their engineering careers (whether they are involved in sustainable construction, international work or in management positions, for example). It is a way to show and demonstrate to female students that the construction sector is for them too!

We also have the ESTP women’s trophy awards, which recognise, promote and reward the remarkable careers of women engineers who have graduated from the school.

These are strategic issues that we champion within our school; and when I see these initiatives, I am confident because the sector has changed! Young female graduates are now working as site supervisors: a very recent development, which needs to be taken further. I believe that our younger generations are not afraid to do so, and we are seeing such young women who have no hesitation in launching themselves into this kind of career.

Why do you think the inclusion and integration of female talent in the construction sector is necessary?

Firstly, gender diversity is non-negotiable. This is a prerequisite – an objective that must be achieved, because we need to represent society means in all its diversity: whether in schools, companies or in the whole construction sector. If I may quote a slogan which sums up this statement perfectly: “May the people who design the city of tomorrow resemble the ones who dwell in it.” This highlights the importance of representation.

Secondly, if we are to really make a difference, women need to have a place at the highest levels of management in the sector. The quota system is therefore perhaps a necessary step towards achieving this gender mix at corporate board level, in order to ensure better representation and support the careers of female managers to enable them to take their full place within company management structures.

What is the ESTP’s policy on inclusion?

Inclusion is central to our mission: as a school that trains the engineers of tomorrow, we have a duty to be aware of these issues and to help move them forward. The ESTP is committed to being an ecosystem in which this subject of inclusion is addressed, and in which there is a need to freely discuss these issues, move forward, interact and promote them to ensure they become areas of general interest to the whole of society. We share this commitment with our partner companies, such as VINCI Construction, as we seek to engage collectively and move the entire construction sector forward!