It’s not just about construction, it’s about improving people’s lives
Support The Scandinavian builder of London’s iconic Gherkin landmark — Skanska — has made diversity one of its top priorities. Skanska women explain how a career in the construction sector can be both rewarding and emotionally fulfilling.
Having just emerged from recession into a period of strong and sustained growth, there are now huge opportunities for women to start a promising career in the construction industry.
Global executive vice president, Skanska
According to the Office of National Statistics, more than 2 million people are currently employed in the UK’s construction industry, but women make up only 11 per cent of that workforce. And within that number, most roles are office based with less than 2 per cent based on sites.
The government is part way through rolling out an ambitious national infrastructure plan that is expected to support 150,000 construction jobs.
Already, Skanska’s UK operation has announced its intention to create a further 1,500 new roles by 2016 to deliver the projects it has won. This will add to its existing workforce of 5,500 people. “This is a fantastic opportunity to bring more women into our business,” says Harvey Francis, who heads up the UK’s human resources department. “We believe women in the workplace create a balanced dynamic and improve the working environment for everyone.”
Demonstrating that women really can reach the very top of the sector, global executive vice president Karin Lepasoon sits on Skanska’s executive team in Sweden. She regularly makes decisions that affect the company’s 57,000 global employees. This year, she was named number 12 on the Top 30 list of female business leaders by national Swedish business newspaper, Veckans Affärer.
The ability of the industry to make a tangible difference to people’s lives is something that resonates strongly with women. Lepasoon explains: “I agree with the person who said ‘I am not laying bricks, I am building a cathedral’. It is both exciting and pleasing to be part of the development of our societies — building schools, homes, hospitals and other facilities that will help improve people’s lives. And to do all this in a sustainable way, that’s thrilling,” she says.
But everyone has to start somewhere.
Kerri Chambers, pictured right, is in the early stages of her career. The former bricklayer was named as runner-up in the Youthbuild UK Young Builder of the Year Awards 2011. She says: “Getting involved with Youthbuild has given me the opportunity to train to become a fully qualified quantity surveyor. Working for a company like Skanska means I will be able to work on some of the country’s most iconic buildings. It has given me a lot of confidence.”
Graduate engineer Kelachi Amadi-Echendu is working towards chartership with the Institution of Civil Engineers and has already gained experience on Crossrail. She is keen to encourage more women into the sector: “There are lots of opportunities to explore, so find out what construction companies do, speak to people already in the industry and find work placements. Don’t let gender stereotypes put you off any aspect of the industry you are interested in. What counts is your enthusiasm and ability, and in my experience these will be recognised and respected regardless of gender.”
Just like in its Swedish parent company, Skanska UK is pushing women to the top, with a quarter of its senior management team made up of women. One of its managing directors — Katy Dowding — was named the 2013 Woman of Achievement across all sectors at the Women in the City national awards.
A former chair of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) for eight years, Dowding explains that, as with many traditionally male-dominated professions, there used to be an assumption that construction was a ‘man’s job’, and this ultimately means the industry has often been overlooked by women when choosing a career.
She says: “Although the word ‘construction’ probably creates images of cranes, bricks, mud and noise, the fact is that the industry involves so much more with a huge variety of roles and responsibilities, and that is how construction needs to be perceived.”
Her advice to young women considering a career in the sector is: “Be yourself, develop your skills and be prepared to take opportunities when they come along. Woman can sometimes be too cautious, so be brave and take the leap.”
Skanska is recruiting, for more information on the roles available and how to apply, visit: skanska.co.uk/careers.