What's it Like to be a Woman in Construction?

With a background as a Chartered Civil Engineer, Juliette (@Juliette_Gecas) has taken full advantage of the flexibility and variety of roles that the industry has to offer. Currently working as a Customer Interface Manager for a major engineering solution provider, she is an advocate for collaboration and diversity in the ever-changing workplace.

This is the 7th in our series of posts by women working in the construction industry about the issues they face. Please see the introductory post for why we are running it.

Image source Department of Transport licensed under Creative Commons

I remember the front cover of a magazine I was given by a career advisor when I was about 16: a smiling woman in her twenties, her steel toe-capped boots prominent in the foreground. At the time, I didn’t find the image particularly unusual – whilst I had no family or role-models working in STEM, I had been brought up to believe that my only limits were my ability and enthusiasm. As a result, a woman on site in an engineering role seemed perfectly natural to me. In retrospect, I see how this wasn’t everyone’s experience. In my career, I have since come across women who were put off engineering as family told them it “was not for girls” – something I find hard to comprehend, and really quite heart-breaking.

“Equality, diversity and inclusion” are not new words to the engineering and construction industries, and there is no denying that there is work to be done on both the perception of what we do - to encourage the next generations - as well as retaining and developing a diverse workforce. The recent requirement for organisations to publish their gender pay gap has brought even more direct focus on these stats (as well as how to measure them), and really emphasises the challenge that we have as an industry.

My draw to Engineering was the creativity of problem-solving mixed with the structured application of maths and science. I had followed the subjects that I enjoyed and excelled in at school, and some soul-searching combined with research concluded that Civil Engineering captured the hands-on career that I wanted whilst it had the flexibility to allow me to change direction. Having said that, I didn’t fully understand what the job would entail – I just didn’t have access to people in the profession (being before twitter and targeted campaigns for students), and it was a bit of a launch into the unknown.

My university development and early career post-graduation brought a mixture of experiences – I found really positive and enthusiastic role models in my lecturers and line managers, who were focused on drawing out my best and recognising my capabilities as an Engineer. Alongside this were a few discouraging comments from peers – a memorable comment was that the gender quota secured my university place. It still bothers me to this day that I didn’t really have a good retort: I was so shocked to be labelled with something he couldn’t prove (there wasn’t ever any proof of such a quota), and by someone who knew me so little!

My career has given me great opportunity and challenges – developing from Site Engineer through to Project Manager out on site; undertaking Bid Management in a Work Winning environment; leading on Reporting and Collaboration in a unique relationship with Client and partner; developing company Strategy and now linking our capabilities to Client needs within Business Development. My variety of roles reflects the flexibility of having an Engineering background, but also the changing industry that I work in. The use of technology is a lot broader than when I first stepped on site as an 18-year old student, and the business relationships are ever-changing and developing to deliver the best results to those who will use what we are creating. Companies and engineering disciplines are integrating, and there is an ever-increasing need to understand how we affect the end user – for me the only way the industry can address this challenge is through the diversity of approach provided by a diverse workforce.

I’ve enjoyed shouts of “girl power!” from enthusiastic passers-by, and overheard “Mummy is that lady a builder?”, and I am proud of what I do. I will be even prouder when gender balance is no longer a challenge.

If you are a woman working in the construction industry and would like to contribute to this series of posts then please contact me via LinkedIn or the contact page on the COMIT website.


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