Women in the construction industry
Like many industries, women are under-represented in construction. But the number of women in construction jobs is slowly growing, and with good reason. Male-dominated as it is, the sector is facing a critical skills shortage and for some time has recognised the talents that women can bring to all manner of roles, from architecture and surveying to project and on-site management.
Recognising the importance of women in construction, Built spoke to Afsheen Ul Haq, who joined BAM after completing an MSc in Major Programme Management from the University of Oxford. We asked her what she does at BAM, why she chose construction as a career, what she thinks the sector should do to create a more gender-equal workforce and how to overcome the hurdles many women in the construction industry face.
Built: Could you explain your role at BAM?
Ul Haq: I work at BAM as a forensic and risk planning manager, specialising in providing support to major projects on schedule risk assessments and doing forensic assessments on delays in major projects. I am also a lead member of planning and project controls management team based at head office responsible for creating strategies for planning, program risk and project controls.
Built: Describe a typical working day
Ul Haq: A typical working day includes routine project(s) supports and meetings with team members to discuss progress and any issues, working closely with internal and external partners for alignment of procedures, standardising use of software and translating guidelines and frameworks into objectives and KPIs in the business pertaining to the planning department.
Built: How did you enter the construction sector?
Ul Haq: I have a very interesting academic background. I have two undergrad degrees, one in law and the other in business. I’ve also done MSc in Major Programme Management from the University of Oxford, a specialised master’s in mega projects. I always believe that one should work in a place that interests you, energises you and keeps you excited. I was motivated by a friend to join the construction industry and I am happy to become part of it, as it offers me all the challenges and opportunities to not just grow in my career, but also contribute in bringing change in the industry using my knowledge and expertise.
Built: What do you like about your job?
Ul Haq: I’m never afraid of challenging the cliché, and mega projects have always fascinated me – this is what I always wanted to do. There is a great feeling of contentment that I have been part of successful, large-scale and transformational projects.
Also, I have keen interest in people development and education. I have always supported, mentored and coached colleagues at work, following my personal inclination of helping others, using my professional experience and knowledge to give others direction and providing professional training on workflow and using systems and platforms. Mentoring is also a two-way process; exchange of good ideas comes from all levels in the industry. These sessions not only enhance competencies and proficiencies in the individuals, but their accomplishments contribute to a very positive feel for the journey that we are taking together.
Built: What have been your career highlights?
Ul Haq: When I joined the construction industry, a lot of people thought I was being irrational as I did not have the conventional engineering background. To enter the industry through this unusual route was a risky experiment. Today, looking back at my decade-and-half-long career, I can say with pride that I have been part of successful delivery of several very challenging projects.
Also, in my role as a forensic planning expert, I have carried out unbiased and honest assessments on many projects and changed the perspective of how the project teams think. Within my current organisation, I have been a core group member for establishment of project controls function in the business. I also led BAM’s Project INTEL, an operational program data-lake, to enable an automated project controls reporting system requiring a team from within and external to the business, engaging a team comprised of experts from the business and platform providers to come on board and invest their time for common business interests. This has been successfully implemented on live projects and producing expected results. Recognising my recent successful deliveries, I have been entrusted with new responsibility to manage program risks in the business.
Built: What are the advantages to being a woman in construction?
Ul Haq: The workplace culture in the construction industry has improved over the years and there is more acceptance for us now than ever before. Organisations are working to provide an ‘inclusive’ environment where we are noticed and heard as equal to our male colleagues. There are times when I am the only female in a meeting of 10 or 20 people; I never shy away to make my presence known. In fact, I take this as an opportunity to stand out in the male-dominated crowd.
Built: What are the biggest obstacles for women in construction?
Ul Haq: To start with, just being a woman in this industry and working on large-scaled, complex projects – where the sites and offices are male-dominated – means you might be one of a kind, or one of few in the team. There is a centuries-long misconception that women are suitable only for certain job types, and construction is not an area for women.
In my experience, there will always be people and situations which shake our confidence and make us question what we can achieve, but there are also people who see the good in us, encourage us and push us to explore our potential. My advice to all women – please look for the second type of person.
Built: What is the best way to overcome these hurdles?
Ul Haq: I believe in leading by example. When I share my success stories of working on large and complex projects with others, I can see the change in their views about women advancing in the construction industry. I can proudly say that I have inspired many girls in my circle of family, friends and workplaces to look beyond traditional career choices and step up the ladder to become leaders in the construction industry.
There are now ambitious and capable women running influential organisations globally, but in the construction industry there is still a long way to go. We don’t have enough diversity or women in leadership roles. We need female directors, board members and CEOs who will be role models for younger generations. Women have a long way to go to achieve equality in the workplace – and wider society – but it is definitely not impossible. Explore every single opportunity that comes your way.
Built: Why should women consider a career in construction?
Ul Haq: Everyone should follow their passion regardless of what degree you hold, your background or gender. Diversity is also good for business. Women bring a whole new mindset of strategies and transformational ideas. They also bring more diverse physical, mental and emotional experiences.
There is a prejudice, and we need to break this by striving hard, upskill our competencies, challenge the status quo and establish our presence.
Built: So how does the industry create the environment to attract and retain female talent?
Ul Haq: We need to encourage and empower women in the industry. There is a need for the government, chartered institutes and engineering faculties at academic institutes to play their role in women empowerment in the construction industry. There have been excellent women leaders in history and the number is growing manifolds in the present – women prime ministers, economists, leaders in medical and legal fields. When a woman can be CEO sitting in a big corporate organisation, then why can’t another woman construct that building?
I am grateful to all my male colleagues and seniors for believing in me and providing equal opportunities. We should build on this good culture and always value input by female colleagues, appreciate their hard work and provide an inclusive environment. The positivity motivates individuals to grow and achieve an aim to reach the top level. Colleagues should look out to support each other and be willing to guide/help whenever needed.