Women in Construction: Project Management

Laura Hamer-West
The Atkins group was listed in the 2013 Times Top 50 Employers for Women, demonstrating that construction and engineering offer good opportunities for women.

A career in construction was never suggested as a possibility at my school due to stereotypes and the influence of traditional career paths. I initially studied economics at university before having to leave my course due to illness. Afterwards, I began exploring what I wanted to do and entered into construction accidentally, after coming across a building surveying degree that matched my interests and skills far more than economics did. I really enjoyed my building surveying degree and it felt much more 'me' than previous courses. It did not occur to me beforehand, but I was one of only a few women on the course.

I had various jobs within the construction industry during and immediately after my degree and was generally one of a minority of 'professional' women in the office. Other women in the organisation tended to be in administrative and support roles.

A recent report from the Construction Index cited the following figures regarding the proportion of women in the construction industry: 

  • 13% of total workforce.

  • 80% in support roles.

  • 20% of RIBA members.

  • 15% of RICS members.

  • 5% of CIOB members.

  • 1.2% of site workers.

However, I don’t think these figures in isolation fully recognise the positive progress women are making in construction. There has been a rise in groups which actively promote the role of women, such as Women in Property and Women in Construction groups. There are more schemes reaching out to schools, promoting the engineering and construction professions, and this is where support is most needed. Positive signs of change are also reflected in the statistics from the ONS which reported a 7.3% increase in the numbers of women working in construction between 2012 and 2013.

There is a lot of support for women within Faithful+Gould; for example there are various specific training courses and networking opportunities.

Despite the positive signs of women’s progression in construction, I was surprised at my team’s gender balance when I joined Faithful+Gould. Our project management team in Bristol has four women and five men, by far the highest proportion of women I have come across in a single team during my time in construction. I think that this is a good reflection of the open-mindedness of the business and its ability to attract the right talent regardless of their age, background or gender. There is a lot of support for women within Faithful+Gould; for example there are various specific training courses and networking opportunities. They are also actively trying to improve the gender balance, for example through their UK Gender Balance Focus Group they have implemented an improvement plan.

I think that perceptions are changing and I feel empowered as a woman in construction; I don’t let gender faze me.

I think that perceptions are changing and I feel empowered as a woman in construction; I don’t let gender faze me. In many ways I think women bring a fresh approach to the industry and will encourage further innovation and change.

I am proud of my progress and I have developed a lot of confidence and self-respect in succeeding in an industry which wasn't an obvious choice for me. I still get a few surprised looks when people ask what I do as I am not the stereotypical image of someone working in construction!