Opinion

Construction needs to reflect today’s society

13 January 2020 | By Katy Dowding

Katy Dowding explains why the industry needs to represent the society it builds for.

I happened into the construction industry by chance, thanks to a friend. I would love to give you a good story about how it was a grand plan but it was spur of the moment. I was 19, just completing A-levels, and a friend said he was going to become a surveyor. I liked the idea of being outdoors so I made the same choice. It was the best decision I made.

I went from a trainee quantity surveyor through to commercial director by getting a degree and a master’s degree. I then moved into operational delivery, before finally learning about business, strategic planning and becoming an MD then an EVP. I’ve been lucky to work on exciting projects, including the refurbishment of the Ministry of Defence.

“Thirty years ago the industry was different. I was treated as a curiosity: there were people on site who had never worked with a woman. Of course I experienced sexism.”

Katy Dowding, Skanska UK

Thirty years ago the industry was different. I was treated as a curiosity: there were people on site who had never worked with a woman. Of course I experienced sexism. When you’re on site with guys on the tools it showed in the social chit-chat, but in management it appeared in how people would underestimate your capability – people ask you to pick up dry-cleaning.

But now it’s light years away from that; it’s not unusual or odd for a woman to turn up on site. Ensuring women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community are welcomed to the industry is the right thing to do morally.

We are building things for a society made up of a whole bunch of people from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different sexual orientations, gender identities, cultures – if we are trying to build all sorts of buildings for those people, why do we think we can do it with a monoculture? We have to represent the society we are building for.

The industry can without a doubt offer a career equivalent to a Formula One technician. The stuff we are doing is really important – so the career paths are infinite. I think it’s sexy, exciting and brilliant.

I work with the construction youth trust. It helps young people from deprived backgrounds find careers in construction. They might get a job but they may never have caught the tube, have any idea of what to wear in the workplace or how to have conversations with their boss. They don’t have the skills and might find it difficult.

It’s important to be a role model. I do believe ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. I want people to look and think they could be a Katy Dowding.

Katy Dowding is executive vice-president at Skanska UK

Comments

It would be best to focus on competence and attitude rather than that intersectional clap trap.This article is total virtue signaling.

Don't give jobs to people just because they are from a certain section of the community give it to them based on ability, experience and competence, if you really want to improve the industry. To do it any other way is discrimination.

I worked with one of the largest main contractors in the UK and they wanted to give all women 3 days off per month because they have (or had) their monthly cycle. This really brought home to us straight white men that we are been scapegoated and discriminated against just for being straight, white and a man. I resigned from that company in protest and so did others. They withdrew the proposed scheme. None of the women opposed the scheme because it directly benefited them.

Despite what the article implies about having a monoculture, culture isn't a race, it isn't gender specific and it it isn't sexual orientation. It is the identity, history and beliefs of the society at whole.. I find this article offensive yet I am not British and am an immigrant... seems to me Britain is enroute to destroying its own amazing culture and history.

James Joseph, 14 January 2020

I feel your pain. Certainly our efforts to deal with diversity and inclusion are rather like an aircraft trying to land repeatedly but not making it and having to return into the air time and time again. However, we have to continue to wrestle with this because dear people the way things are right now just ain't right!
I'm no longer convinced about quotas, and initiatives and targets but on the other hand the way it is is so unfair to minorities. I wish we could just focus on ability, skill, and experience but the system has inbuilt bias, both conscious and unconscious. And the playing field is so skewed against women, BAME, and LGBTQ+ , and intrinsically unfair and unequal that it can't remain that way. We have to change. What was that recent article? - The gender pay gap will take generations to close? WHY is there a gender pay gap in the first place? Perhaps we need to look the other way down the telescope - not so much about the rights of a particular group but more about the strength we derive by being a truly diverse society. It is proven that project teams with more diversity outperform their blinkered rivals. I speak as the typical industry stereotype , white, professional , British, middle/late aged. I belong to that aging group of industry dinosaurs, and even I can see this needs to change. And I think there is much hope in the burgeoning millenials, Gen Zers and the i Generation. Energy, enthusiasm, passion, creativity, collaboration, no boundaries. True diversity is the vision and we all have to wrestle this across the line. But it WILL come. Don't lose heart! More from me on this soon.
Best J.

JOHNEYNON., 14 January 2020

Any industry worth its salt should look to be as inclusive as possible encouraging diversity of thought, talent, and ideas. Every industry is in a fight for people that can make a difference and construction must seize any opportunity to show itself as being open to all. That just makes sense, and people like Katy help us paint that picture. We need more of these stories not less of them.

Saul Townsend , 15 January 2020

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