Reflecting on diversity in the UK construction industry
International Women in Engineering Day is an annual celebration of the achievements of female engineers.
I have had a fantastic career in engineering so far, starting as a site engineer in 1999 and working up to my current position as Head of Temporary Works here at Multiplex in the UK.
Temporary works refers to the engineering solutions used to facilitate permanent works and protect existing structures during the construction phase of a project. Temporary works are a key element of permanent works construction but they can sometimes be overlooked because people mostly focus on the finished building and don’t see the temporary works that were required to deliver it.
My role is to oversee the management of temporary works across all our UK projects. Temporary works experts are appointed on each project to deal with the day-to-day tasks and I work with them to ensure corporate governance compliance and resolve any site issues that arise. Construction is ever changing, and we must be agile, working together to solve complex problems to meet the ever-increasing demands of the industry.
Being a female engineer in construction, I have come up against many obstacles and preconceptions throughout my career. When I tell people I am an engineer, they are always surprised. I often get congratulated and told that I must be really smart and it must be very difficult to work in an industry with so many men.
I remember walking around a project with a new graduate once and speaking to a subcontractor’s site supervisor. He asked some questions about an element of temporary works that had been installed, directing his conversation to the new male graduate rather than myself. The graduate looked back at the site supervisor, pointed at me, and said, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about, you need to ask her, she’s the engineer.” The site supervisor did look pretty shocked, apologised to me, and redirected his questions.
Working in construction has helped me become more confident, resilient, and more determined to be as successful as I can be, not because I am female but because I am an engineer and I have a passion for engineering and problem solving.
Working in a male dominated industry has made me a very driven individual. I want to show others that you can achieve whatever you want to if you work hard and have the passion, regardless of gender, race, or religion. Outside of Multiplex, I have recently been appointed as Director of the Temporary Works Forum, a representative body established to promote industry best practice and raise awareness of temporary works. Being recognised as an industry expert in this way is one of my proudest achievements to date.
I have spent a lot of time with students undertaking work experience and I often ask them what their perceptions of construction are. The responses tend to be that construction is full of men, hairy builders, digging holes, working in the rain and mud. It’s seen as a very manual and hands-on role, which is not necessarily an attractive career option to future generations.
Multiplex has made some great strides engaging with schools, colleges, and universities to showcase the opportunities and career options available within the construction industry. The negative outdated view of construction as a career choice that is just for men is something we are working hard to change.
We have come a long way since I started my career over 20 years ago, but we still have a long way to go. I have seen a shift in mind-sets in the younger generation of construction professionals who are less accepting of society’s inequalities. The construction industry is heading towards a skills crisis due to an aging workforce and a poor pipeline of people coming into the industry, so we must ensure that construction is seen as a positive career path by women as well as men. I am extremely passionate about the development of people and future talent, and I help to plug this skills gap by engaging and working with schools, colleges, and local STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) hubs to spread awareness of construction industry career options.
By educating parents, teachers, and school governors on construction and engineering career options, we can help ensure that that future generations do not disregard construction as a career option before they have even considered it.
Being a mentor for students on the Multiplex Graduate Programme and people doing work experience with us is very important to me. Everyone is different and as a manager and leader, I believe that you need to listen and understand each individual’s needs and working styles to get the best out of them. I take time to listen, understand and engage with people on a daily basis and work very closely with our graduates each year to provide guidance, assistance and mentoring to develop their skills.
I am very proud to have had my mentees and peers nominate me for external awards such as Construction Role Model of the Year, Most Inspiring Role Model, Best Female Mentor and Mentor of the Year. This positive feedback pushes me to continue investing in talent and to help create a more diverse and inclusive construction work force for the future.
It is up to all of us to help change the negative perceptions that still exist within our industry and show the next generation, especially women, that there is a future for them in construction.