Women in Construction: Leading Change

Claire Mills
Project managers lead change. All forms of change. Leadership skills are essential for a project manager’s career and personal development. So what difference does it make if you are a woman leading change?

This was the topic discussed in a one-day workshop titled 'Gender at Work: Women Project Managers Leading Change'. The October 2013 event was a collaboration between the Association for Project Management (APM)’s Women in Project Management SIG and the International Gender Studies Centre, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. 

Presentations were given by experienced professionals representing different sectors of activity, including construction, telecommunications, finance, housing, development and design. Speakers reflected on their careers and experience in these fields, in which women are increasingly active.

Forty delegates attended, participating enthusiastically in debate about gender at work. Discussions included the often contentious issue of gender quotas, with polarised views emerging and examples given by delegates from Sweden where quotas have been successfully used to encourage and retain female employees in leadership roles. Positive gender differences were debated, with discussion around project management’s softer skills, where women have traditionally been considered to have an edge. The audience largely felt that these skills are certainly beneficial to stakeholder bodies, but agreed that they are not as gender specific as previously thought.

Faithful+Gould is actively involved with the APM Women in Project Management SIG, with our regional teams supporting local APM initiatives.

There was a focus on networking, raising personal profiles and social media, in a context of women not always promoting their own interests. Some workplaces have traditionally had a male-dominated professional/social network but social media and contemporary networking opportunities allow for a more balanced and accessible approach.

Faithful+Gould Associate Director Sarah Thatcher brought the spotlight to the construction industry with a presentation called 'Why women contribute to everyone’s success stories except their own'. Her bold title was followed by a debate that women downplay their individual contribution to projects, instead citing the success of the whole team. Drawing on over 20 years’ experience in the industry, Sarah considered whether women deflect individual attention because they don’t want it, or because they feel projects should always be acknowledged as team efforts. Sarah is also the Faithful+Gould representative on our in-house group-wide gender balance focus group.

...we hope to encourage more women into the industry and to address this, we have joined our parent company Atkins in a diversity initiative which includes a focus on gender.

Faithful+Gould is actively involved with the APM Women in Project Management SIG, with our regional teams supporting local APM initiatives. Our Bristol office hosts regular APM events for the APM South Wales and West of England branch. I am a keen member of the branch and am organising a women’s networking event for spring 2014, following the branch’s survey on the need for more women-focused events locally.

At Faithful+Gould the proportion of female employees in technical roles reflects the national property and construction industry average of 15 per cent. Although this is positive we hope to encourage more women into the industry and to address this, we have joined our parent company Atkins in a diversity initiative which includes a focus on gender. Our gender balance improvement plan encourages female employees to progress and achieve their potential in a culture which embraces equality and provides flexibility.

We have already seen a number of positive outcomes from the diversity initiative in 2013, including sponsorship for 200 women across the Atkins group to attend a women’s development training programme. The programme helps women to consider their career journey, helping them reach their full potential by improving key skills, developing career plans and working on career conversation dialogue.

Our gender balance improvement plan encourages female employees to progress and achieve their potential in a culture which embraces equality and provides flexibility.

The Atkins group was again listed in this year’s Times Top 50 Employers for Women and has won the 2013 working mums.co.uk top employer of the year award. Atkins has also set a goal to increase its proportion of women board members from the current 22 per cent to 33 per cent by 2015.