Women in Construction Summit

IMG_1984In March, several of our team members attended the Women in Construction Summit in London. The first of its kind, the summit was designed to bring together women who share a passion for construction, giving them a platform to challenge, equip and inspire each other, and build relationships with like-minded women in the industry.

Sarah Kelly, technical sales manager, was one of the attendees and wrote about her experience at the event:

On 6 March, Sophie Haynes, Lauren Clarke, Jonquil Taylor, Katie Millar and I attended the first ever Women in Construction Summit. It was a fantastic event, and I have a few helpful outcomes to report:

1) The Women in Construction Summit wasn’t a ‘We Hate Men’ conference

I say this because not one, not two, but three people since the event have said they thought it seemed like a ‘man-bashing’ conference. But in reality, we need gender-specific events like this in industries where the disparity is so great, because of the ‘If I can see it, I can achieve it’ motto. Women made up 15% of the workforce in Construction in 2000, but today the number is still only 20%. We have a long way to go in this industry.

The event was designed to celebrate women who have achieved success in their careers and to help other women look at routes for development which they may not have considered before.

Seeing someone you can aspire to be like has immeasurable impact on your belief in your own potential, and I could definitely see myself in some of the women’s stories. It was a great day to celebrate all that women can bring to the construction sector, summed up by Katy Dowding, VP at Skanska, who said: “Diversity isn’t a feel-good goal; it’s about adding value to your projects.”

2) Stats don’t lie, but they’re not everything

When HS2 adopted the ‘Blind Auditioning’ practice (removing the name/gender/address of candidates on CVs) the rate of women shortlisted for roles increased from 17% to 47%. For BAME candidates, the number went from 14% to 50%. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to prove yourself in the interview, but getting that foot in the door to then show what you can bring, is often half the battle.

3) Preaching to the Converted

One of the most startling realisations I had from this conference occurred when listening to Ceri Evans, Commercial Director at Jacobs, talk about her journey in construction. She had begun in an administrative role and was mentored and developed by one of the senior managers in the company. I was listening to her talk and thinking, ‘Yes, of course we should be championing women in construction! Equal rights also mean equal opportunities!’ But then it struck me that simply having equal opportunity doesn’t always equate to gender parity in business.

Based on an internal report by Hewlett Packard, men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the criteria, and women apply only if they meet 100%. That’s a generalisation, but the pressure to be perfect is prevalent for young girls and women throughout our society and often stops very able and passionate women entering and/or staying in the Construction sector. Ceri asked, “What’s the biggest obstacle to Women in Construction? It’s self-belief.”

Which leads me to my fourth and final point: (or rather, question)

4) How do we get better at championing Women in Construction?

I am proof that the Family of JDS companies really do challenge and champion their employees.  Where you see an opportunity, share it. Where you see potential in someone else, call it out. It’s amazing how easy it can be to build a network of colleagues who are wonderfully diverse and wildly interesting, with just a small word of encouragement or a recommendation of someone’s expertise or experience. For me, it’s looking at the People we employ with an open mind and seeing what each individual can add to the business.

With a diverse set of minds and opinions what can we achieve in timber innovation and design? What could a truly equal workplace bring to the next 100 years of Timber Construction?

And finally, here is a little visual for you, because a picture is worth a thousand words.

This was my view at the Women in Construction Summit on 6 March:

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And this was from the Timber Trade Federation Softwood Conference on 7 March:

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This just goes to show what a difference being invited in and championed by your company can make. JDS had the highest gender parity in attendance at that conference as we were 40% female! There are so many fantastic women employed at JDS, and I feel privileged to work alongside them and learn from their experiences. I can only look forward with excitement at the next generation of women being employed and developed within our business. We have come a long way, but there is still more to be done!

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