Founded in 1970, O’Keefe has worked on several landmark schemes across the capital in recent years, including the revamp of Camden Lock Quarter, the British Library extension, the transformation of Battersea Power Station and works on the regeneration of Wembley Park.
A trained building engineer, Marta has been at O’Keefe for nearly three years.
How and why did you choose the construction industry for a career?
Many people in my family work in the industry, so it was always very close to me while I grew up. As I kept growing, I knew I wanted to study anything related to engineering, I wasn’t sure of which type. In the end, I chose building engineering as every time I looked at buildings, they fascinated me more than the other options. Even though the beginning of my career was tough, it is never too hard if you enjoy what you are doing.
What was your first job in the industry and how did it shape your view of the sector?
While I was studying, I had the opportunity of doing an internship for a Tier 1 contractor in my hometown. There I saw the real construction world and how all the theory I was studying in university translated into a construction site. After that, I became more practical and resourceful than I was at university. I loved going to sites and seeing what the processes were and learning as much as I could.
Are there advantages to being a woman in construction?
There are always advantages in any type of diversity in the workplace, either gender, ethnicity, etc. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and by working together we reduce the weaknesses considerably. For example, one of the advantages women have is that we are fewer in number compared to men, therefore it is easier for the rest of the people to remember us. Then we can use this type of opportunity to show our value. We only need to break the stereotype that construction is too tough for women, and be seen as professionals, not just women.
What is the biggest misconception around being a woman in the industry?
That you don’t understand anything about construction, that we are more delicate, and we cannot get our hands dirty. We should all break those old stereotypes which limit our potential and prevent people from showing their potential.
How do you maintain a good balance between work and ‘life’?
I try to keep them separate, to a point. Sometimes people can misinterpret that professional and personal life can be completely independent and they don’t have to affect one another. Personally, I think that keeping them separate is also beneficial to be able to have a break from each other and value both more.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?
Maybe we should aim for more innovative thinking and having more diversity. We need to improve the workflows and reduce errors which may lead to delays and increase the initial budget. Most of the errors could be avoided.
What advice would you give to women considering a career in construction?
To be strong and determined, if this is the industry you want to work in, we can change the attitude and we can definitely make our space on it. The mentality in the industry is changing and hopefully, we can see a bigger change shortly.
There are nine women on the O’Keefe BIM team. Why are there so many? Was that a policy/hiring decision or simply they were the best candidates for the jobs being hired for?
Our BIM team is based in Macedonia, so in the hiring process there were more female candidates. We chose the best ones even though there were not so many candidates. This is as a result of having more women qualified as architectural engineers. However, this is the opposite for civil engineers, where men are more predominant.
Regarding the BIM team, they are all perfectionists and the quality of the work they produce is impressive. They keep learning and they keep challenging themselves to prove their skills. You can see they love what they do. For us, they are all great professionals, regardless of their gender.
How does O’Keefe empower the women on the team?
They always listen to us and consider any advice we may have to offer, but I still believe there is a lot of work to be done, not only in O’Keefe but across the entire industry.
What is it you are most proud of your team doing? Or trends that you’re seeing with women in the industry? I can see incredible progress on how the team works. They keep improving themselves and we are improving the trust of the rest of the company in what we do to help them.