Women in Construction: The Journey So Far

Yvinne Neo
I’m a managing surveyor at Faithful+Gould. Being a woman in a traditionally dominant male role has been a rewarding journey for me, which is why I am keen to promote the industry as an exciting career option for women.

Whenever I tell people that I’m a quantity surveyor, there is always a look of surprise, a raised eyebrow, followed by “Oh really?” or “Why?” My usual response is that I am a brick counter, construction financial manager, and contract interpreter all in one, and I work with project managers, architects, engineers, and various construction professionals to transform a design into a structure within realistic cost parameters and optimised return on investments.

My career began at age 20 as an assistant quantity surveyor with a renowned firm in Singapore. I started no differently than others, with perhaps one exception: I never allowed my gender to limit or restrict me in any way. The biggest attribute to any success that I have had is hard work, tenacity and never-say-die attitude. I was also fortunate to have great mentors who showed me the ropes and taught me so much of what I know today – both technical and soft skills.

The biggest attribute to any success that I have had is hard work, tenacity and never-say-die attitude.

The quantity surveying role is challenging and demanding but fascinating as no two projects are the same, and I get to work on a broad range of projects. For instance, I could be desk-bound evaluating variations and preparing cost reports for a residential development today, and the next day, I’m in my safety boots and helmet on a construction site of a new campus facility. As unexpected issues are bound to arise in the life cycle of any project, each day is a learning experience for me. But what I enjoy most is being part of the team that contributed to Singapore’s skyscrapers and seeing a building take shape through the various project phases.

When I was offered the role of senior quantity surveyor at Faithful+Gould in 2012, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew about the company’s commitment to staff development, so when I started, I worked very hard to win. In just under four years, I was promoted to managing surveyor, leading a team and have established partnerships with both my clients and consultants within the industry.

At the peak of my career, I also had a young child – who says women can’t have it all? I run a tight ship at work to get the best out of my team, and I am an engaged and nurturing mum to my now seven-year-old daughter. Usually in the office by 8am and home to tuck her in bed at 9pm, this is our special mother-daughter moment as we’d just lie in bed and talk about everything including her secrets – it’s so precious!

But what I enjoy most is being part of the team that contributed to Singapore’s skyscrapers and seeing a building take shape through the various project phases.

Of course, there are days when nothing’s going right at work, and then I go home to a screaming child and a big pile of dirty laundry. Hence, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “perfect” work-life balance, or a be-all and end-all solution. You just have to make it work. If you have the passion, drive and determination to succeed, then you will because you’re always at your absolute best.

So, regardless of how negative the general perception may be about women working in a male-dominated industry, my journey in construction has been rewarding. Don’t let gender stop you. Know what you want to achieve, trust yourself, go for it, prove your worth and leave your mark.