Ph.D Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, cofounder and CEO of ECOncrete, paved the way for female scientists in the (eco) engineering field. At 45, she died in a road accident while driving a scooter in Tel Aviv. I interviewed her just before her death, her words resonating and inspiring other women in the field, young STEM students and male colleagues.
The first professional figure that comes to mind when thinking of the construction industry, for a long time, has been a man. It still is so in many cases, but not all.
Not only was Perkol-Finkel defying the norm of being a leader within a male-dominated industry, but she also was at the forefront of positive environmental change. With 20 years of experience in the field of marine biology and ecology in over 30 counties, Perkol-Finkel specialized in sustainable management of urban marine habitats and her company is the expression of this effort.
With projects all around the world, ECOncrete’s low-carbon concrete solutions strengthen the durability of coastal infrastructure and enhance its surrounding biological and ecological environment rather than working against it.
“Our patented technology allows decision makers, engineers, contractors and landscape architects to build in harmony with nature,” Perkol-Finkel explained. “The core innovation is a suite of science-based bio-enhancing concrete admixtures, complex surface textures, and 3D designs that act in synergy to increase the ecological value of breakwaters, seawalls, pier piles and alike, while improving their structural performance.”
“We change the composition of the concrete to make it more hospitable to marine life, and we add features like water retaining elements, holes, crevices, and more, that offer shelter, nursing grounds, and encourage growth of rich and diverse marine plants and animals. In addition, the growth of species like corals, oysters, tube worms and barnacles, that deposit calcitic skeletons onto the concrete, strengthen the concrete and provide it with protection (e.g., from chloride penetration, corrosion and erosion) in a process called Bioprotection.”
Together with the cofounder Ido Sella, Perkol-Finkel studied “how to make concrete more ‘sexy’ for marine life, without losing any of the structural integrity and without interfering with operational performance.”
The EU funded project called Living Ports led by ECOncrete includes partners from Spain (Port of Vigo, Cardama), Israel (ECOncrete), and Denmark (DTU). They have just finished a project with the Port of San Diego (launching a new product – the COASTALOCK), and were getting ready for a new one in Staten Island, when Perkol-Finkel passed away.
For sure, Perkol-Finkel never let her gender be an issue. “I won’t say I wasn’t nervous the first time I gave a presentation to a room full of (mostly male) marine engineers,” she recalled. “But I was confident of the strength of the technology and of my expertise.” She used a slide of Seinfeld’s episode “Marine Biologist – A Hero” to break the ice. “They loved it.”
“As we’ve managed to have a women led company successfully grow, raise funds, and become a new industry leader, I am happy to say I see this as a plus if anything.”
These results are not taken for granted. According to Eurostat, women are still underrepresented in both STEM and management.
In 2019, there were more than 6.3 million female scientists and engineers in the EU, accounting for 41% of total employment in these fields. Only the so-called “knowledge-intensive services” recorded a female majority (59%).
Although women represent almost half of all employed persons in the EU (46%), female bosses remain outnumbered. In the third quarter of 2020, 3.3 million women were among the 9.5 million people holding a managerial position in the EU (34%). And only one third parliament and government members are women.
The lower the education level, the wider the gap was between the employment rates for men and women. In fact, the gender employment gap between men and women with a high education level decreased over the last decade but the opposite happened for those with a low education level.
Perkol-Finkel’s achievements within the industry have already been widely recognized. She was selected as a 2018 We Empower awardee for her achievements in advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals and, in 2019, she was awarded the prestigious EU Women Innovators award.
Her legacy will remain strong, as the empowering message contained in her words. “Go with your passion, no matter what. Go study, knowledge is power, and use it to make a positive change in this fragile world,” Perkol-Finkel told me. “I am proud to bring a change to highly conservative (male dominated) industries like concrete and construction, and I encourage other women to do the same. Bring cross disciplinary skills and out-of-the-box thinking to traditional industries.”