Women in Construction: progressing diversity in the industry

Women in Construction: progressing diversity in the industry

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by Elaine Lewis, Managing Director, Cadventure

In my career I have experienced one extreme to another when it comes to the balance of the sexes. My first job out of university was in marketing and advertising, which, in general, tends to have a relatively high female quota in the workforce. I then moved into the AEC sector and found myself in a diametrically opposite environment, where women made up a very small part of the workforce.

This lack of balance and the lack of opportunity for women is also a missed opportunity for the industry, depriving us all of a huge pool of talent.

As a woman who has broken through into this industry, I have found it to be a genuinely rewarding, challenging, and intellectually stimulating career.

For my part, I have championed women in construction – both as a judge for the European Women in Construction and Engineering awards and as a Women in BIM Mentor. But there is so much more that needs to be done by all of us as employers and decisionmakers in construction.

My experience of these two great initiatives have made two things very clear to me. Firstly, the calibre of talent among women in the industry is phenomenal. And secondly, that we need to do more to encourage more women and young people to enter the industry, thereby diversifying the workforce further.

Celebrating women in construction

I have always felt that when I walk into a meeting or event, I can address the imbalance in the room – from simply wearing brighter clothing to stand out in a sea of dark business suits, to making a concerted effort to join – and sometimes lead – the discussions and be included on an equal basis.

Thankfully, we now have programmes like Women in BIM, which work tirelessly to ensure more women are showcased in the digital construction space.

I am delighted by the constant growth of women working in construction and seeing the impact they have made in building the environment around us. I spoke with Katya Veleva – Founding Director of Blush Cloud, a specialist leadership coach,  about what message she would give to young women entering construction today. She said: “Being part of the construction industry is being part of constructing the world for everyone – and as with a lot of powerful positions, women have often been excluded. We must remember that the world is for everyone, so it makes sense that everyone should be a part of constructing that world!”

Making the industry work for everyone

Now that I have reached a more senior position in my career, I see my role as being that of a mentor to those at different stages of theirs. I am aware, however, that my experiences are individual and not necessarily representative of all women across the industry – but I am keen to share my knowledge to help elevate other voices.

We need to look at changing ways of working in the industry that allow for everyone to participate, from all kinds of backgrounds. It is not always easy for anyone who is raising a family, has caring responsibilities, or for a disabled person to work long hours or do a long commute. Nor is it easy for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access further education.

While I hate to harken everything back to Covid, the pandemic really gave us a hand in exploring more flexible and inclusive ways of working. We need to continue looking at how we can make the industry more accessible for everyone – including what employers can do to facilitate different ways of working, whether it be flexible hours, clearer work/life boundaries, or equally paid carers’ leave.

Encouraging young women to work in AEC

One of the biggest issues we have in addressing the balance of women in construction – and indeed encouraging young people into the industry in general – is that there is a huge misconception about what careers in construction look like. There is an assumption that they are largely male dominated roles that either involve a lot of manual labour or a lot of desk time. But with the DEC training programmes in schools from Class of Your Own, WIB mentorships and female role models coming to the fore more regularly, we as an industry are doing brilliant work to break down these barriers and showcase the wide range of opportunities the industry has to offer

Young people can start to see construction as the career that it is – an incredibly exciting one. From award-winning innovation to 3D printing replica bones of Anglo-Saxon queens (and that’s just Cadventure!). The new levels the AEC industry is reaching with innovation and technology are astonishing, and showing that to eager young minds, and getting them keen to be involved, is the first step in encouraging them to join in.

Advice for women in construction

I contacted some of the incredible women I have had the pleasure of working with over the years and asked them what advice they would wish to give  women joining the industry today.

Vicki Reynolds, Chief Technology Officer for  i3PT and  CertCentral, and a WIB Mentor and UK BIM Alliance Volunteer:

“My advice to women in construction is to identify your positive personal qualities and celebrate them. Absorb and acknowledge positive feedback that you get no matter how small it may seem.

There will always be difficult people to work with and tasks that are hard to complete – you can’t control that. But you can control how you respond.”

Vicky Ernst, Chief of Strategic Projects at Arcadis Gen:

“Take responsibility for yourself, and try not to blame the environment around you. Embrace the opportunity to be curious in everything you do – and remember that there’s no such thing as failure, just feedback.”

Alicia Llorens, Sales Campaign Manager, Virtuosity:

“If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, I’d say: dream big and work hard. You are not alone, although many times it will feel that way. Find a female mentor. Proactively seek feedback. Learn how to ask for help.”

Katya Veleva, Founding Director of Blush Cloud:

“My advice is – check with yourself. Always make sure you are nourished and nurtured, first and foremost. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and draw solid boundaries.”

The work women have done in construction so far has elevated all of us into a position that can pave the way for those that follow – and effect real change for gender equality in the industry. We are already seeing a huge change, and I am so excited to see what (and who!) comes next.

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