Construction needs to reflect today’s society
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