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5th Nov 2020

We report back from this year's Women in Construction Event

Diversity and inclusion, as well as wellbeing, the environment and technology were some of the key themes in this year’s Women in Construction event. The conference, held online over three days and three time zones, brought together global leaders, industry innovators, designers, engineers and constructors who shared their game-changing advice and global industry insight.  

The power of inclusion and diversity in the workplace

Everyone must take responsibility
In a session called Re-writing the Blueprint for Inclusion in Leadership Ljeoma Samuel, associate director of Turner and Townsend, stated that everyone has a part to play in creating more inclusion at a leadership level. She asserted that if there’s a gap, we have a choice to leave it or get involved and help close the gap. What’s essential, she said, is having a vision and communicating it clearly, and creating an environment in which leaders can flourish.

The key to improved performance
Magali Anderson, the chief sustainability officer at Swiss manufacturing giant LafargeHolcim presented a session called Driving Diversity from the Top to Become more Resilient. She talked at length about the importance of embracing diversity and how having diverse teams leads to improved performance. Because we all have different perspectives, the more diverse the team, the better we innovate and the more resilient we become as a business, especially in uncertain times, she said. She also highlighted the fact we all have unconscious bias and we need to recognise that and address it as part of our thought processes. 

Recruitment is key
While in her session, Diversity and inclusion in Construction, Elena Anaya of California company Turner Construction talked about ensuring your recruitment strategy supports diversity and inclusion. She stressed that firms need to think differently and look for talent in new places. She also said

“Diversity is being asked to the party – inclusion is being asked to lead the party.”

Supporting mental health and wellbeing  

Creating a supportive culture
Wellbeing and mental health in the workplace was another key theme, and Steven Haynes and Alexandra Best of Mates in Mind, a UK-based charity, talked about how everyone in a company plays a role in supporting mental health.

In their session Tackling Mental Health in the Workplace they stressed the importance of building a supportive culture at work. They talked about how the pandemic had accelerated a lot of change, with mandatory working from home since March. As a result, people were having to get used to a new way of life, both in and out of the office. It was important to focus on our own wellbeing but also to look out for a change in others around us, and where necessary start a conversation.

Building resilience
Deborah Hulme, founder of Minerva Engagement and the Neuroleader Academy, also talked about wellness and delivered a session called The Science and Psychology of Wellbeing and High Performance. She stressed that high psychological safety is of utmost importance if you want a high performing team. In fact, you need high psychological safety and wellness, coupled with having good procedures and processes in place in order for good energy flow to thrive.

Psychological safety is a primary driver of team effectiveness, she said. We need to eliminate the fear of contribution and threat and ensure a sense of safety where we can express ideas and ask questions with comfort, support, respect and trust. When our nervous system detects stress, it tries to protect us and turns on ‘saving’ systems to prepare us from threat, which reflects out to others. To manage our stress, she said, we need to build up and strengthen our resilience bank to help manage ourselves through challenging times.

It’s essential to wrap support around each other and build up resilience skills to help us perform at our best in order to survive this new normal together. She stated that a sustainable business structure requires creativity, collaboration and high resilience to succeed. 

Being empathetic
Senior manager Ivana Tudja of international consultancy and construction company Mace, continued the conversation in her session Breaking Down Barriers where she talked about digital transformation. She said it was important to have a vision, do your research, test your product, know your people and have a structured training programme. It was vital, she said, that we support each other professionally and emotionally, as growth comes from helping each other and being empathetic towards different peoples’ needs.

Finding your motivation
Finally, project leader, Kabri Lehrman-Schmid of Hensel Phelps, presented a session titled More than a Superintendent - Owning My Role as A Female in Construction.

She talked about the importance of connecting with your core motivation in order to find strength and new ways to apply yourself, and to drive positive change. She stressed how aligning your vision and using your voice and connections can create advantages and raise positive opportunities – not just for ourselves but for others too. And the secret of growth? Self-knowing and self-acceptance. 

Looking after the environment 

Retrofitting gives flexibility
Enviromental and sustainable issues were also very much on the agenda and Nathalia Rozencwajig, founder of international architecture practice NAME, presented Afterlife: A Novel Solution to Respond to Future Housing Needs. She stated that the current economic model encourages demolition, and this shouldn’t be the case. She stressed that we must change our approach to existing buildings and that they should be improved rather than erased. We should retrofit existing structures, she claimed, which would lead to increase efficiency and give us the flexibility of use necessary to meet societal needs. 

No plan B
Civil engineer Sally Sudworth from the Environment Agency, warned we were in an environmental emergency in her talk What have we got to lose? #ThereIsNoPlanB.

She said as a country we have a commitment to zero carbon targets and we need to deliver on them. Continuing business as usual will not make a difference and she urged the industry to make a transformational change. What can the construction industry do to help? 3D Printing, net zero carbon site facilities, logistics and new methods of construction were all recommended.

What next in Tech? 

Construction technology is vital
Angelica Donati of the Donati Immobiliare Group, an Italian based developer and investment company, asked What’s Next for ConTech? According to Dontai, ConTech helps tackle poor construction productivity and improves collaboration, design and engineering, regulation and supply chain management. Offsite manufacturing which drives efficiency can also be increased thanks to ConTech. She finished by saying technology has been vital for construction during the pandemic and will continue to be so in the future. 

New ways of working
Finally, construction manager Natalie Bowkett and senior construction engineer Sophie Drury at Mace, talked about Adopting New Methods for Old Systems.

They revealed that Mace Tech enabled high rise solutions, reducing design and construction programmes by 25%, vehicle movements by 40% and waste by 70%. Films, diagrams and drawings of the construction of a factory were used to demonstrate how ‘construction’ has moved to ‘production’ and building a large structure from a set of parts.

They added that the additional benefits, were the increase of health and safety on site, and a regimented and efficient process.



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