Women in Construction: Contributing to Success

Sarah Thatcher
In the autumn of 2013 the Association for Project Management's Women in Project Management SIG, in collaboration with the International Gender Studies Centre, held a workshop titled; Gender at Work: Women Project Managers Leading Change.

I presented at the event and brought the spotlight onto the construction industry, focussing on 'Why women contribute to everyone’s success stories except their own'. This bold title was followed by a discussion of the way in which women tend to downplay their individual contribution to projects, instead citing the success of the whole team. My own approach is one of collaboration – everyone on the same team working towards a common goal. By building relationships with the project team, you earn respect and support by reciprocation.

My own approach is one of collaboration – everyone on the same team working towards a common goal.

When it comes to accepting positive feedback and praise, however, I have a tendency to say 'it was nothing really', 'I just did what any PM would' or 'it wasn’t just me, it was really well designed by the team.’ I found that my female colleagues in the construction industry are inclined to do the same, but male colleagues are generally more accepting of praise and are able to explain how they did a good job.

These behaviours can be derived from the gendered context in which many children are brought up, with boys taught the importance of achievement, and girls taught to share and role play with a caring nature. Both personality traits are valuable and people who are good at building relationships typically do well with the project management skills of communication, stakeholder management and team building.

I work with our Managing Director and HR business partner to implement the Faithful+Gould gender balance improvement plan...

My presentation also discussed the 2008 McKinsey Women Matter report which highlighted that companies with diverse boards perform better financially. This was reinforced by the 2011 Davis report Women on Boards. There are two key challenges to getting women onto boards - availability and opportunity.

I work with our Managing Director and HR business partner to implement the Faithful+Gould gender balance improvement plan, which broadly aligns with the McKinsey guidance to provide women with more opportunity. The plan focuses on candidate attraction, recruitment, development, retention and senior promotions.

A gender-specific itinerary is often accused of being sexist and of promoting women over men. However, I believe the aim is to put men and women on an equal starting point. In-house, an important outcome has been sponsorship for 200 female employees across the Atkins group to attend the Women’s Development Programme (WDP) training. 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.

In-house, an important outcome has been sponsorship for 200 female employees across the Atkins group to attend the Women’s Development Programme (WDP) training.

Developing your personal brand is key to progression, encompassing performance, image and exposure. This includes raising your profile internally and externally, making better use of social events and building your connections. You need to identify those who can help you to develop your career and become more involved in their activities so that they can see you are an asset. The 40 delegates attending the Gender at Work Workshop were receptive to these ideas and discussion and debate followed.