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Women in Construction Week 2024

6 Mar 2024

Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith

Group People and Culture Director

This year’s Women in Construction Week theme – ‘Keys to the Future’ – celebrates the strength and knowledge of women as well as their unique skills. Group People and Culture Director, Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith discusses the theme, which provides the opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate the vital role that female talent plays in driving performance, shaping workplace change and influencing the future of the construction industry.

Women who want to shape the future of the industry, or use their strengths to make a difference, often face barriers. This could be not having the right facilities to effectively work on site, or experiencing an unwillingness to support opportunities for flexible working, or moreover finding themselves uncomfortable and the target of a banter-rich culture. Women can feel as though there is no natural space for them to thrive on their own terms in the persisting male dominated environment that the construction industry provides. This can often lead them to make alternative choices at a young age, or leaving the industry feeling burnt out mid-career due to operating in environments that are not aligned with their values and needs. Otherwise known as, the ‘leaky pipeline.’

Yet there is persisting appetite and drive to overcome these concerns and experiences, led by a genuine passion for the industry and community at large. Female talent continues to strengthen their strengths and ask themselves regularly: What do I need the future of work to look like for me?

They’re imagining something different:

  • Greater opportunities to work with or network with other likeminded professionals.
  • Workplaces with both physical and psychological safety, that enable them to be themselves and stay clear of jeopardy in work
  • Greater investment in their leadership skills, shaped around female strengths
  • Opportunities to have their voice heard – delivered in a way that is authentically them
  • A place where there is an understanding and accommodation of their changing health needs
  • Greater flexibility for working hours to balance other needs beyond the profession

Women in Leadership Forum

Women have a real opportunity to influence a tangible shift. There is a real sense of clarity over their vision of the future and a consistent passion to push at the walls of their current reality.

These areas mirror some of the discussions we’re holding at Pick Everard with our female talent. Our new Women in Leadership forum was established because we believe the best results for change are achieved through collaboration and a shared agenda. As a group, we’ve been clear on setting our aims around adding value to how we do things here at Pick Everard. To do this, we have to ask ourselves and others challenging questions about how we’re doing things now. Open to Associate level female professionals and more senior female talent, the group regularly comes together, to connect, share and lead opportunities to influence policy and practice within the business, as well as provide support and inspiration to each other.

The WiL forum seeks to empower our female talent, tackling the matters that affect them the most in our corner of the industry, whilst looking outward to see how we can leverage opportunity externally to broaden our impact. Importantly, the group is solutions-oriented, with each session ending with a range of actions to implement. In turn, our workshop based female talent scheme opens the doors to female talent and their allies at all levels across the business to benefit from learning and knowledge development in a range of crucial leadership, wellbeing, personal communication and self-development areas.

Driving inclusivity

These endeavours have to be supported by proactive action at our most senior level too, ensuring our leadership team are leading on inclusivity and using this to guide them in their decision-making. EDI is now part of a regular conversation at Board level, with our people & culture business partners working collaboratively with our Boards and Senior Management teams to stay informed on the latest thinking and feedback and ensuring unconscious bias checks are done for each key process.

Yet there is still much to do. We know we also need to share more positive stories of female talent for the next generation to learn from. This too relates back to this year’s theme. The next generation is part of the keys to the future- and they need role models with a new strong narrative. Accomplishments of many women within the industry, stories filled with success and clarity over how they have carried out their journeys must be shared so as not to deprive young girls of the knowledge that women can and do excel in various fields within construction. Important messages, stories and lessons from others can be the difference to making the decision to pursue a career in this area or not – and in turn addressing the gender balance and culture shift needed.

As we continue to work on the bigger picture, we’ll be marking women in construction week with a panel discussion here at Pick Everard – celebrating women achieving great things, recognising their contribution to the changing world around them and advocating for greater gender balance to build a more inclusive industry that benefits everyone.