The U.K. construction industry employs more than 3 million people, according to the government, but fewer than 20% are women. Businesses are increasingly latching onto the fact that diversity—and more importantly, representation—can make a huge difference to the efficiency of an organisation. Construction is no different.
Things are improving, with more women looking to enter the industry. Construction offers a career path second to none for those looking to grasp the opportunities that come their way.
Bluebeam spoke to Sophie Drury, a construction manager for major contractor Mace who is currently working on the group’s East Village project in East London. The Built blog spoke with her about her job, her experience in the industry and how more women can be encouraged to follow her example.
HC: Could you explain your role?
Sophie Drury: I work in a business unit within Mace called Mace Tech, delivering high rise construction solutions. I work as part of the shell and core team and I’m the lead construction manager for a 30-storey tower being built in East Village, which is a part of the old 2012 London Olympic Village in Stratford in East London.
HC: Describe a typical working day
Sophie Drury: It’s your regular construction management work. The day starts with something called ‘the golden hour,’ where you spend the first hour going around the site, checking it out, making sure everyone’s starting their work safely and setting everyone up for the day. And then throughout the day it’s about measuring progress, keeping an eye on quality and safety, planning the work that needs to be done.
HC: What attracted you to working in construction?
Sophie Drury: My dad worked in surveying when I was young. When I was growing up, I was always in and out of building sites and I’ve always been interested in how things get put together. And my godfather is an architect, which is basically how I ended up doing architecture at Manchester University. But it wasn’t really for me. I love being able to say that I built something on the London skyline, and I didn’t think that was something I would have been able to do for quite a while if I went down the architect route. I thought if you get into construction, you’re going to be much more hands-on and you’ll deliver a lot more.
HC: How did you come to work for Mace?
Sophie Drury: I’d been living in Australia and when I came back to the U.K. I got a temp role working for Mace. After six months of working in admin, I realised it was a really warm, welcoming place to be. There are lots of stereotypes in terms of the construction industry being a difficult place for women to work in. But in the seven years I’ve been working for Mace, I’ve rarely felt anything less than being part of a tight-knit family.
HC: What do you like about your job?
Sophie Drury: I think working in the construction industry for a main contractor is probably one of the most interesting jobs that you can have. I’m on my fourth project, and I’ve done so many different things within this industry that I wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else. I’ve done ‘cradle to grave’ projects, so you get to learn about buying packages, health and safety, building basements, doing landscaping. You’re always doing something different. There’s always something more to learn. And no day is ever the same.
HC: Do you feel you are treated differently because you are a woman?
Sophie Drury: No, I don’t. Women might approach a problem differently, but we offer diversity and that’s good for the industry we are in. There are some people who might get a bit frosty at the prospect of a woman onsite, but by the time we’ve completed a project, it’s a whole different ballgame. They see things differently. But we’re trying to get more people—male or female—to come into the industry, and that is important.
HC: Is the issue of women in construction an important one?
Sophie Drury: It is, but I don’t want the topic to be all-important. Yes, it is important for me when I’m going out and trying to encourage other people to come into the industry. I’m representative of what is coming, because more women will end up working in this industry. But in my day-to-day job I just want to be seen as someone who works in construction and is good at what they do.
HC: Why should women consider a career in construction?
Sophie Drury: There are so many opportunities in this industry. You can do almost anything. One week, you could be building a residential tower; the next you could be working somewhere else on a bridge or building a tunnel. The kind of stuff that you get to do on site is stuff that you will never get to do behind a desk in an office all day. And you can travel pretty much anywhere in the world in this industry. Walking around East Village, when I first came here—I think it was four or five, five years ago now—it was quiet, there were no people and there were nine fewer buildings. Now if I walk through East Village with my friends, there are all these buildings. I’ll point out something and say, “That’s my crane” or “I built that!” and it’s just glorious. It’s so much fun.
HC: What can be done to encourage more women into the industry?
Sophie Drury: We spend a lot of time going into schools and explaining what we do in construction. We grow up with all these stereotypes of what girls can do and what boys can do, and what they are expected to do. A lot of the work we do in schools is designed to help break these down. When we have conversations with these girls about our work they’ll ask: “So what exactly do you do?”, and once you explain it, there is often this little light bulb moment going off in their heads where they’re like: “Oh, that’s really cool.”