Gender divide tackled as women take road to success in highways career

ONE OF Yorkshire’s largest councils has pledged to step up efforts to tackle the gender divide after recruiting more women in traditionally male-dominated roles.

Jayne Charlton (left) and Melisa Burnham in front of a new NY Highways vehicle. The two women are now senior members of North Yorkshire County Council's highways team. (Photo: North Yorkshire County Council)
Jayne Charlton (left) and Melisa Burnham in front of a new NY Highways vehicle. The two women are now senior members of North Yorkshire County Council's highways team. (Photo: North Yorkshire County Council)

North Yorkshire County Council has announced that half of its senior management team overseeing the authority’s highways department are now women.

Jayne Charlton and Melisa Burnham are now two of the council’s four area managers to help oversee the county’s 5,800 miles of roads.

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Their appointments have come at a seminal moment in highways operations as North Yorkshire has created its own company for roads maintenance.

NY Highways was created last month 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 the largest network of roads overseen by a local authority in England.

The council’s executive member for access, Coun Don Mackenzie, 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.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s workforce is made up of 76 per cent of women and 24 per cent of men.

Although the percentage for highways and transportation is much smaller, there are now 111 women working within the service, and half of these are employed in managerial, professional or technical roles.

There are now 16 female engineers working for the authority, representing a significant increase from the three apprentices in July 2017.

Mrs Charlton has been appointed the Area Manager for Richmondshire and Hambleton, covering some of the most rural landscape in the country.

She is responsible for the management and delivery of highway operations across the two districts from road resurfacing to snow clearance, covering a total of 1,700 miles with budgets in excess of £7.5m.

She first joined the highways department as a technical assistant in the accident investigation and prevention team, before studying a civil engineering course to progress to become 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.

Mrs Burnham is responsible for maintaining North Yorkshire’s roads in more urban areas, as she was appointed the area manager for Harrogate and the surrounding areas in 2018.

She joined the 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.

In 2016, she took on the role of the improvement manager in the Harrogate area, managing eight engineers who were responsible for delivering the capital scheme and day-to-day highways operations.

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 per cent of these will go on to secure permanent positions.