Construction has strongly demonstrated its willingness to embrace Women within the sector. As we reach the end of the ‘Women in Construction Week’, we focus on just a few companies and organisations that have reached out to Buildingspecifer with their views and success stories about women in construction.
Encouraging more women into construction
Ultimately, the construction industry needs to send a message to women of all ages that the sector is in a different place to the one it occupied in the previous century. It needs to highlight that the building process itself is a relatively small part of the industry, which requires a plethora of expertise to function effectively in the form of designers, planners, surveyors and engineers.
Construction needs problem-solvers, people who like a challenge and enjoy meeting other people because in the building trade, employees do not exist within the confines of their own organisation. A tradesperson’s network will involve many building-based organisations and even competitors, who will be committed to achieving the goal that inspired us to join the industry in the first place i.e; we wanted to make the world a better place. For women who have the same aim, then a career in construction is definitely for them.
Coleg Cambria’s Bersham Road site in Wrexham invited all secondary schools in north east Wales to join a day of workshops, seminars, and activities ahead of International Women’s Day.
“It was “fantastic” to see such a positive response from the students.
Engineering and construction are traditionally male-dominated fields but there are so many opportunities out there for women to be successful, the barriers that were once there are disappearing,”
“Of course, the challenge now is to demonstrate what these opportunities are and how working in these arenas is an attractive proposition, which is why we held this event.
“The feedback we’ve received has been brilliant, it’s fantastic to see the interest and hopefully the next generation of engineers and construction workers will see far more of a gender balance.”
Karl Jackson, Assistant Principal for the Institute of Technology and Site Lead at Bersham Road
“In some careers there is still a stigma about women’s ability to do the job, but at Coleg Cambria we are all about breaking down barriers and giving our learners the best possible chance to progress and flourish on whatever path they take,”
“And we do so in partnership with many of the country’s top engineering and construction companies and trade bodies.”
Gemma Booth, a Member of the CIOB (MCIOB)
SHREWSBURY COLLEGES GROUP
An all-female team of construction staff are encouraging women to look beyond gender stereotypes and get involved in the industry on International Women’s Day.
Currently, women only make up 14 per cent of the construction industry, but educational providers are helping this figure to rise, with 37 per cent of people who enter the industry through higher education courses now being women.
The construction staff at Shrewsbury Colleges Group are eager to contribute as much as possible by encouraging young women to enrol onto their construction courses.
Amanda Crane, a progression specialist who coordinates all industry placements within construction for Shrewsbury Colleges Group, believes that right now is an especially exciting time to be working in construction trades.
She said: “I love working alongside these professionals in construction as this area of employment is currently booming.
“Employers are keen to give young people an opportunity to prove themselves, leading to many success stories.”
Through a long-term commitment to equal opportunities and professional development of employees, Sika fully supports the International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign to tackle gender bias in the workplace.
Sika is proud of the inclusive culture that exists across all areas of its business. Therefore, in recognition of International Women’s Day, here’s an introduction to some female employees who are building a career in construction with Sika.
UK Finance & Compliance Manager, Tracy Roberts, said that promoting equality and encouraging diversity was key to establishing gender equality in the building industry.
“As a male-dominanted industry, women may experience imposter syndrome and not necessarily be given equal opportunities. It’s not something I’ve experienced, however.”
Tracy, who has spent 22 years in the building industry, said women should feel confident enough to share their ideas on workplace practices and behaviours.
“Autonomy and drive for innovation are key drivers to empowering positive change within a business. It’s something that Sika has always encouraged during my time with the company.”
Tonia Bicknell swapped a career in retail and hospitality to become Sika’s Reward and Benefits Manager.
“I really welcomed the opportunity to work in a new industry with the fresh challenges it brings. Generally, construction remains a male-dominated industry, but Sika is committed to addressing that gender imbalance. I like its values and culture, hence I wanted to be a part of that environment. My role as Reward and Benefits Manager allows me to help scope the future of Sika’s benefits portfolio and attract and retain new talent. It’s a very exciting place to be.”
Despite being relatively new to the construction industry, Anna Fuller, who provides data and project support as part of Sika’s IT team, has already made her mark. She cites involvement with Sika’s Enewall SAP Integration Project and the ongoing Everbuild SAP Project as being a highlight of her burgeoning career. She has a message for women looking to follow in her footsteps by taking up a building industry-based role: “If it’s what you want to do, just go for it. Be confident and trust in your abilities.”
“The influence of IT will continue to grow massively in the industry, particularly as newer technologies such as VR and AI are refined, and innovate processes in planning, design and build.”
A Data Scientist within Sika’s Quality Control Department, Letitia Birnoschi has a chemistry background and ‘an inclination’ towards materials science.
“The construction industry seemed like a perfect fit.”
As the first woman in her family to pursue a science-related career, she hopes to make the most of her current role. “My work involves developing data-driven tools for analysing data from R&D and quality control. My ambition is for these tools to become an essential part of the Sika business.”
Michelle Round, R&D Technology Centre Leader, is adamant that in the workplace, gender differences should be a source of creation rather than discrimination.
“Women often think about things differently to men, and that leads to different approaches. We need diversity of thought and ideas to be able to push and challenge each other.”
Michelle’s construction-based career began by ‘luck’ when she took an industrial work placement whilst studying for a degree. She said that the building sector needed to establish an appropriate culture in order to recruit and retain more women, adding: “We still need to get more women into senior management positions. The biggest changes always come from the top and having more women there will help shape the right environments below senior management.”
Sarah Langley would rather her gender was incidental to her role as Head of Infrastructure – Major Projects.
“I don’t like being considered as a ‘woman in construction’. I’d prefer to be thought of as just another person in construction.”
Sarah, whose grandfather was a roofer, said she’d inherited his practical skills. “As a child I learned to wire a plug, fix a fence, bleed a radiator and much more!” Delighted to win Salesperson of the Year in her Target Market in 2021, Sarah is nonetheless adamant that her greatest career achievement thus far was “being considered a specialist within my industry and by my peers at a global level.”
At Sika, we believe our workforce’s diversity is key to our success as a global building products manufacturer. We employ people for their commitment to excellence, rather than gender, race or cultural identification. Women have proved themselves more than capable of forging a career in the construction industry, displaying the requisite skills to flourish in many aspects of the sector.
Their influence will be crucial to our future built environment.
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) represents more than 1,000 specialist engineering companies with a combined turnover of around £4 billion. Its members provide design, installation, commissioning, maintenance, control and management of engineering systems and services in buildings, with a particular focus on heating, cooling, and ventilation.
Employers in these sectors are struggling with an ageing workforce and a long-standing lack of diversity that hampers their ability to recruit the talent they need to address a growing skills gap. However, BESA has women in most of its senior management positions, which is helping it to promote positive change across the industry.
Its commercial, finance, marketing, training, and legal directors are all female. Its director of certification, which plays a crucial role in the development of professional and technical standards for the building services sector, is also a woman.
On International Women’s Day, the Association is using its gender balanced approach to recruitment and promotion to send a strong message to the industry it represents – and to the wider engineering community. Its gender profile is very much in line with this year’s IWD theme: #Break the Bias – challenging inequality in the workplace.
“Thousands of words have been written about the barriers to gender equality, but it is only through concrete action that real change can happen,” said Kirsty Cogan, BESA’s managing director of commercial services.
“For engineering, which is suffering from a growing skills shortage, to be, in effect, recruiting from just half of the available workforce seems crazy,” she added. “There are amazing career opportunities for women and girls in our industry, but gender stereotypes still hold sway and, as a result, our businesses are missing out.
“At BESA, we have women in most of our leadership positions and working throughout our organisation. While we recognise that these roles are not ‘pure’ engineering, our gender balance does allow us to influence the diversity discussion across the sector and set an example to our members.”
Legal and commercial director Debbie Petford pointed out that most of the barriers that might have prevented or discouraged women from entering engineering professions were coming down.
“The adoption of modern methods of working and the emergence of Big Data and digital design techniques, along with the rapid advancement of building services technology, mean the sector desperately needs more talented young people with new skills and from a much wider background.
“And it is these same advances that are also making it easier for women to gain access to technical and leadership roles right across the UK economy – our industry needs to build on that,” she said.
It takes strong, positive action to reverse decades of unintended gender bias and providing positive role models is a great way of inspiring a new generation, according to BESA.
“Women like to work in professions where they can make a difference, so we need to promote the amazing opportunities in engineering to ‘shape the world’ i.e. through sustainability; the climate emergency and addressing social inequalities,” said director of certification Rachel Davidson, who has been employed by BESA for 30 years.
Just over 12% of all UK engineers are women, according to the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). However, that figure falls to 9.7% for those employed in ‘traditional’ engineering like the building services, mechanical and civil sectors.
Leading components manufacturer, Klober, is showing its support for gender equality across the construction industry as it celebrates its highest ever level of female leadership in over 60 years. However, the business says there is still a way to go with regards to wider female representation across the sector.
Most notably, Klober has revealed its senior management team now comprises 66% women and 37% of the company’s wider roles are filled by women, spanning logistics, warehousing and sales management.
Pauline Manley is Klober’s Marketing and Portfolio Director and was the first female director to join the senior management team in 2019. Since then, the business has appointed three more women into senior roles including Tessa Viller – Head of Brand and Communications, Layla McCourt – Divisional Sales Manager, and Jenny Gallon – Warehouse and Logistics Manager.
Pauline highlights a study conducted by researchers at The Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington, D.C., companies with 30% female executives are around 6% more profitable She says: “This is evidence for the global debate over the scarcity of women in decision-making business roles. Leadership groups with people from mixed backgrounds, ethnicity and gender are more successful because the challenge is stronger and ultimately leads to more rounded decision making.”
A recent report from global HR services company, Randstad revealed that although there have been improvements in female leadership positions, 43% of companies surveyed still had an exclusively male board of directors in 2019. With females only representing 12.5% of those employed in the construction industry according to a report by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Klober has reason to celebrate its 66% record.
The 2022 theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. Pauline comments on Klober’s interpretation of this: “While we’re very proud of our representation of women in Klober, there is still much work to be done to attract more women into construction. It’s a thriving and exciting sector to work in yet grapples with a bias towards men going back centuries.”
Pauline adds: “Training and apprenticeships are key. Once a woman is in the industry, she needs to see career progression. Providing training and development gives them that opportunity for success. We will proactively be looking at the way we describe roles and the images we use. I also think we need to be more accessible at all levels and this has to start with better communication and good careers advice and training.”