Do an online image search for ‘women in the construction industry’ and you’re presented with rows of pictures of women wearing hard hats and high-vis jackets. The promotion of women working on-site has made good progress in recent years, but what about the other roles in the construction industry? “Where are the female role models in the boardroom?” challenges Ceri Evans, Commercial Director for SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business. “What do we need to do to make women feel that they deserve a seat at the table?” These are just some of the points Ceri will be discussing in her talk at the Women in Construction Summit in Amsterdam on the 5th December. As well as passing along advice on how to navigate the construction industry, Ceri will be sharing her own story of personal growth and what it took to overcome obstacles in her career to gain a place on the executive team of a business with more than 18,000 employees in a traditionally male-orientated industry.
We sat down with Ceri ahead of her presentation to learn more about how she’s championing change and her hopes for the future of the construction industry.
What drew you to sharing your story at the Women in Construction Summit?
For me, events like the Women in Construction Summit provide an important platform to share stories that are personal and positive, rather than focussing on the negative statistics that we so frequently hear about the industry’s gender diversity. With more women entering the construction industry than ever before, I hope that by telling our stories and sharing our experiences and our insights, women will feel empowered to pursue their own career aspirations within the industry.
I also want to show that there’s no ‘right’ path to succeed in the construction industry – I certainly didn’t expect to be in this industry when I was younger, having started out as a classical singer. But as we begin to transform the way the construction industry operates, true diversity of thought is key and having a different perspective and different experiences has been hugely beneficial in bringing something unique to the way we approach our business. A number of studies have shown that the best teams are built on diversity, and I hope that anyone (however they identify) attending my presentation on 5th December will feel empowered to be authentically themselves, without fearing that embracing their femininity or their true selves will be a barrier to their success.
What are the best things we can do to drive change in the construction industry?
For a long time, there have been negative connotations attached to doing something ‘like a girl’. The fact is, women should be proud to have a different skill set to men and be unafraid to #leadlikeagirl. Rather than accepting these negative attitudes and feeling powerless in the face of challenges, we need to be more proactive in overcoming the difficulties women face in a male-dominated industry like construction. This doesn’t have to be a personal battle; there is a great network out there for us to rely on – and become part of – ready to share invaluable insights and offer support.
What initiatives are you or your company championing to improve gender diversity in construction?
SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business is also working hard to overcome the perception that engineering is a ‘man’s world’, and attracting and looking after female talent is something the business is actively involved in. One initiative I think is particularly great is the STEM Returners programme. Research by PwC in 2016 found that three in five women returning to work after a break ended up in lower-skilled or lower-paid roles. To tackle this, the STEM Returners programme invites those who have taken a career break to re-join the workforce in a professional internship, ensuring highly qualified and experienced women are placed in positions that align with their seniority and expertise.
Internally, there’s also plenty of support available for members of staff, be that through the staff-run Women’s Professional Network, or the internal Women’s Development Programme for those looking for professional support in advancing their career.
On a personal level I do lots with STEM and I coach and mentor – one of my key themes in my talk is to ‘pay it forward’. I also try and lead authentically and to embody what I preach. Be proud to be feminine (if you want to), be confident, act with integrity and show it can be done.
Come and listen to Ceri Evans share more of her experiences and insights on the 5th December at her 11.30am talk, The European Hidden Path.