Pick Everard champions women in construction on International Women's Day 2017

08 March, 2017

Pick Everard is celebrating International Women’s Day (8 March 2017) by championing the contribution female staff members are making to its firm and the industry as a whole.

The firm has over 120 female employees, more than a quarter of its workforce, which is far higher than the construction industry average of just 12%.

It is keen to see more young people and females carve a career in the construction industry, following STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Maths) design and management, as well as wider careers in construction, to meet the skills and gender gap. It has put strong policies in place to support this – one example being offering women coming back from maternity leave £1,000 to help them return to work.

“Tackling the gender bias has been difficult…however this did not put me off achieving my career goals”

Natalie Clemson is a 32-year-old civil engineer and associate of the firm who has been with Pick Everard for almost ten years. Whilst dealing with the day-to-day challenges faced as a civil engineer, Natalie is also a mother to a three-year-old daughter, and is currently expecting her second child. But being a mother and an ambitious professional is not something that has been an obstacle at Pick Everard, she says.

After achieving first-class honours in  her degree in Civil and Architectural Engineering in 2008, Natalie started her career at Pick Everard as a graduate, and worked to gain her chartered qualification just four years later. Since then, she has been promoted to associate and has no plans of losing the momentum in her career progression because of motherhood.

“I find it disheartening when women feel they must give up their career to become a mother. As long as they have the right support systems in place from their partners and workplace, women have a choice. In fact, balancing the demands of home and work is not exclusive to working mothers; it is a parenting issue applicable to working fathers too. This is something that Pick Everard completely understands, with the firm being supportive of career ambitions regardless of gender, whilst offering the flexibility needed that ensures family life is not compromised.”

In her role, Natalie manages a team of graduates and technicians and leads multi-disciplinary design projects for a variety of clients, acting as the key point of contact. She is also a STEM ambassador, and visits schools to encourage more girls into pursuing a career in engineering.

She added: “I went through school doing well in my subjects but never really knew what I wanted to do as a career. I was keen to apply my love of both maths and art, but it was only when my school’s careers advisor suggested engineering, that I realised it was an option for me. I think this is a problem for a lot of girls when choosing what path to take. The opportunities are there, but it’s the fact that they aren’t aware they exist in the first place.”

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, Natalie believes gender stereotyping at a young age is the main cause for the lack of women in STEM careers.

“I am very passionate about raising my children in a gender neutral way to ensure they understand they can be whatever they want to be,” she said. “Stereotypes we see in toys and clothing definitely connect with the gender imbalance we see in STEM subjects. Children aren’t born with expectations about their future careers, but by primary school age, they already have ideas about the jobs that are ‘suitable’ for boys and girls because of these market influences. I think these mind-sets are really hard to shift in older children and young adults, and they end up developing into the unconscious bias we see in the workplace.

“In my role as STEM ambassador, I support local schools to inspire girls into STEM careers and show them that engineering is an exciting career option for them. However, my presence also demonstrates that it is normal for engineers to be both women and men. It’s just as important to demonstrate this to boys, to ensure they don’t develop the same gender bias that exists in society today.”

Natalie said her experience of progressing as a female in a male-dominated industry has had its challenges. She added: “Tackling the gender bias has been difficult, and it has taken a lot of energy over the years to break through the stereotypes. I am often the only woman in meetings, which made it difficult to have my voice heard and to earn the respect of clients. But as the industry has improved over the years, and with my progression into a more senior role, things seem to be getting better and I have not let these challenges put me off achieving my career goals.”

 ‘STEM careers are associated with creative minds, an ability to try things out and develop new things’

Maela Baker, civil engineer, has moved up the career ladder at Pick Everard after starting as a graduate engineer with the company in 2012 going on to achieve chartered status.. As a STEM ambassador she often goes into schools and runs events at big bang fairs.

“Celebrating success is the best way to get more girls into engineering,” the 31-year-old said. “Trying to tackle the stereotypes about engineers and make the career ‘fashionable’ is also key.

Maela has applied her engineering knowledge to largescale projects like the Eden Project and working on environmental improvement schemes and was last year shortlisted for the IET Young Women Engineer of the Year Award. She also chairs the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) body for the East Midlands region.

Maela added: “It was not an easy route into the industry for me, in the early days of my career it was very difficult and when trying to get my first placement in engineering prior to going to university, I even got a laugh down the phone from one company at the prospect of a girl in engineering. When I first started on site I did get a  lot of comments and some people wouldn’t take me seriously, however, after I proved myself I earned respect and from thereon in I had no problems on that site. “Today, I’m very pleased to say times have changed; there is a growing number of females in the industry and a recognition that diversity of all kinds enables a better understanding of client needs and enhances the generation of innovative solutions.”

“More needs to be done to educate girls as to what careers are available to them.”

Jo Morrish, director of HR and training, has been in HR for over 20 years and at Pick Everard for almost 10 years, and has been involved in progressing the careers of a large number of women in the industry. Having started her working life in secretarial roles, she took a break to start a family and then commenced work with a large high street bank where Jo’s leadership capabilities were recognised and she moved into an HR role.

“I think it’s important to ensure that girls are aware of what options are available to them at an early age – the earlier we catch girls, the better in terms of showing them what they are capable of and promoting STEM careers as a possibility. If schools are able to help with this as soon as they come up from primary school then that may influence their GCSE choices and their future career in STEM,” said Jo.

“As girls mix with boys at pre-schools, nurseries  and school I think they are naturally exposed to gender specific toys and are able to play with both which, in my experience, isn’t discouraged. This means that they’re not committed to the prescriptive boys’/girls’ toys they may be exposed to at home. For this reason, it would be helpful if parents assisted by talking to younger female family members about STEM careers as they can be  exposed to more gender binary at home in terms of the toys they play with, perhaps influencing their decision making processes at school and beyond.”

In Jo’s role, she is required to provide generalist HR and training support at Pick Everard, a role she entered into due to enjoying working with people.

She added: “Making employees feel valued and stretched is a key component of my job. We have a great team at Pick Everard and everyone is extremely hard working and professional. I try to reflect this work ethic and professional drive when I go into schools and hold interview skills sessions with students – showing them how best to achieve their goals through improving their interviewing skills.

“In HR we also have a work experience programme for students to come into the firm and we do really try to encourage more females to consider construction design as a career option. Although there is no preferential treatment and we always pick the best candidates – regardless of gender – we ensure that every female’s application is considered very seriously in a bid to promote this career path to young women.”

“I don’t agree with gender stereotyping however in my experience I don’t believe that being a girly girl directly influences your career choices.”

Ali Ratcliffe is a sustainability consultant who has been with Pick Everard for two and a half years. Her role sees her working nationally providing sustainability advice, undertaking sustainability assessments and PV viability, feasibility and design projects.

Now 26-years-old, Ali was inspired to choose her career path by following in her father’s footsteps, she said: “My father is a civil & structural engineer who worked in telecoms then diversified into renewable technologies infrastructure. We would have discussions over our evening meal about his experiences and I was lucky enough to get involved through work experience during the school holidays.

“I don’t agree with gender stereotyping however in my experience I don’t believe that being a girly girl directly influences your career choices. I have friends who had pink bedrooms, pink pencil cases, pink everything but they are all working in or towards professional careers in scientific fields. It was our education and being given support and the correct information to make informed choices at every life junction.”

Her favourite thing about working at Pick Everard is the friendly open door atmosphere; which allows for openness and transparency for all members of staff.  If more businesses developed this then it may encourage more women and young people into the industry.

“At Pick Everard we have a lead by example ethos; be a role model to those around us and inspire the next generation with engaging intelligent conversation. The correct guidance needs to be provided in school to ensure that girls are making educated decisions to not eliminate subjects which can lead to careers in STEM.”

“Society produces subconscious messages telling girls that STEM isn’t for them – by the time they get to school, we’ve lost them.”

Having studied psychology at university and with a background in communications, Jennifer Cotterill – bid writer at Pick Everard – joined the firm six months ago. She is instrumental in winning business opportunities and, being the mother of a four-year-old, is keen to show that women are making waves in the STEM industry and are capable of achieving in business.

“My greatest achievement was securing a £48 million leisure complex redevelopment for the company I was working for through a compelling and engaging bid proposal I led,” said Jennifer.

“I have regular contact with technical professionals and am required to have an understanding of the sector in order to translate the information they provide into lay persons’ terms. My role is to put across this information in interesting and diverse ways through bids and tenders.

“I haven’t found that being female has meant encountering any professional barriers – during my working life it has been fine but returning to working life after having a child was more difficult. More needs to be done generally in terms of making returning to work easier on new mums. I’m proud to be part of a company that takes this issue very seriously and has a fantastic scheme in place which welcomes women back to work, recognising the difficulties lots of women face.”

Jennifer believes that there is a perception of the industry as being male dominated and this can be off-putting for females looking to start their careers in STEM, although she is delighted to have joined Pick Everard which has a female partner at the helm.

“It’s great that we have females in top positions at the firm, it’s certainly helped break the gender stereotype.

“We really need more women acting as role models and speaking about what a fantastic career it is for women if we’re to ever see a change in the stereotyping of STEM jobs being exclusively for men. Women need to inspire women and through exposing girls to these successful female role models we can promote these careers and show what a fantastic industry it is to work in,” continued Jennifer.

“The main thing is creating opportunities and allowing female voices to be heard”

Aarti Raj has recently been made director of quantity surveying after pursuing her love of buildings when choosing a career in the construction sector. She supports Pick Everard as it positions itself as the first choice property, construction and infrastructure consultancy.

As a 40-year-old mother of two, Aarti said there have definitely been challenges she has faced along the way to achieve the position she now holds, and that Pick Everard has valued her opinions and advice over the two and a half years she has been with the firm.

“Throughout my career, I have always felt that I have had to work that little bit harder to make my mark. Competiveness will always be there in all industries, but I feel as a female professional I’ve had to go the extra mile to prove myself. I’ve dealt with some big personalities over the years and when I first started out in the construction industry, some of the comments reduced me to tears. But now I know how to deal with those kinds of personalities and can stand up to any gender bias and have the confidence to challenge opinions.”

Aarti is keen to champion opportunities for females at Pick Everard and ensure more young women know about the career paths available to them.

International Women’s Day is this year campaigning for participants to #BeBoldForChange and create a more inclusive, gender equal world.

View News index

Don’t miss out!

Never miss a story, get them sent direct to your inbox. Simply provide your email address below:

E-Newsletter sign up