Although the highways industry is often dubbed a man’s world, North Yorkshire is defying the narrative as two of its four area managers are female, as NY Highways explains.
These women occupying top posts are responsible for the largest road network in the country and are members of a growing band of female highways workers at the County Council – 111 in total so far.
Jayne Charlton has been appointed Area Manager for Richmondshire and Hambleton – covering some of the most rural landscape in the country – at a seminal moment in highways operations as North Yorkshire has created its own company for highways maintenance.
NY Highways was created after the contract with private sector company Ringway ended to give the County Council greater control and flexibility over highways service delivery in the management of its 5,800 miles of roads.
Ms Charlton loves the cut and thrust of the job and the opportunities ahead of her. She said: “The things I deal with on a day-to-day basis are very varied. I can start a day smartly dressed attending meetings and engaging with council members and by the end of the day I could be out in the rain with members of the team dressed in full PPE problem solving on a high speed road.”
Jayne first joined the highways department as a Technical Assistant in the Accident Investigation and Prevention team.
NY Highways has funded training to allow Jayne to take a Civil Engineering course, enabling her to progress to a Technician.
Despite taking a five-year break to have her two children, she continued to climb the ranks as a Traffic Management Engineer and Highway Improvement Manager before landing her current role.
Jayne added: “The County Council has supported me throughout, helping me to achieve my academic qualifications and through career development opportunities and continual training and support whilst bringing up my family.”
Jayne is responsible for the management and delivery of highway operations across the two districts from road resurfacing to snow clearance, covering a total of 2,750km with budgets in excess of £7.5m.
She said: “In the winter months I am a winter service decision maker and manager, making decisions based on the weather forecast as to what gritting and snow ploughing operations we need to do.
“With long hours and early morning calls it is very challenging and a huge responsibility but also very satisfying to know that we are keeping the highway network safe.”
Some of Jayne’s most notable projects have been her involvement in delivering the Treadmills development and Northallerton Connections scheme such as the Zetland Street improvements.
Maintaining North Yorkshire’s more urban landscape is Melisa Burnham, who was appointed Area Manager for Harrogate and the surrounding areas in 2018.
Melisa joined the County Council’s highways department as a Senior Engineer in the Special Projects team, before becoming a Lead Officer in the Transport and Development team two years later.
“These roles allowed me to build on technical engineering experience and project management by delivering major projects,” said Melisa. “I liaised with local district councils regarding Local Plans, and I was able to represent the County Council at major planning application committees, public enquiries and events.”
In 2016 Melisa took on the role of Improvement Manager in the Harrogate area, managing eight engineers who were responsible for delivering the capital scheme and day-to-day highways operations.
Melisa said: “With two young daughters work/life balance has always been very important to me which certainly gets harder as you move up the career ladder. However, the County Council is really supportive of this and allows a good level of flexibility.”
During her current role Melisa has been key in delivering major projects such as the junction improvements to Bond End in Knaresborough in 2018, which are designed to address air quality concerns. Active Travel measures are at the forefront of schemes currently being delivered across the county, including the Harrogate area.
Melisa added: “The role presents a need to forward plan and consider strategic opportunities as well as the requirement to be reactive. For this reason, every day presents new demanding challenges but is certainly rewarding when achievements are met by the team.”
The NY Highways workforce is made up of 76% women and 24% men. Although the percentage for highways and transportation is much smaller, there are now 111 females working within the service – half of these are employed in managerial, professional or technical roles. There are now 16 female engineers – up from three in July 2017.
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “North Yorkshire’s highways teams feature women in a wide range of roles from those starting out in their careers with graduate opportunities all the way up to high-level management based around the county.
“Jayne and Melisa are empowering role models to others thinking of starting a career in highways. They have achieved so much during their time with us and continue to deliver a great service to residents. By seeing more women rise through the ranks than ever before we are proving to be a very inclusive organisation that I am proud to be part of.”
A lack of diversity is a national highways issue and NY Highways is tackling this by forging strong relationships with schools and colleges to encourage students to continue the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects.
It is investing in training, starting with an expanded apprenticeship scheme which offers competitive pay. Its target is to support 20 trainee roles, including specialist highways technicians and apprentices and it is hoped that more than 90% of these will go on to secure permanent positions.
By listening to existing apprentices, they are creating an inclusive working environment and are keen to learn best practice from those such as the Fire Service, to promote equality in physically demanding positions, said NY Highways.