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A woman at work in the construction industry

A woman's world: advice for women in architecture, construction, engineering and surveying

'Speak up', 'be aware of your career development' and 'forget about perfection' were just some of the words of advice emerging from the first ever Nottingham Trent University ‘women in the built environment’ event.
Male graduates appear to be more comfortable 'blagging it' than female graduates.

I was kindly invited along to the networking evening in which around 35 students attended presentations, took part in round-table discussions, chatted over nibbles to successful women in the industry and spoke to a recruiter for a national housebuilder. We talked about everything from recruitment to career progression and pay rises, and I picked up some interesting tips to share with you.

Don’t be afraid to tell people what to do

A number of the female professionals present admitted to feeling apprehensive initially about supervising or giving direction, especially to teams on site. This is a fear shared by male graduates too, but the professionals observed that the male graduates on their teams appeared to be more comfortable ‘blagging it’ while the female graduates of their acquaintance were concerned with making sure that everything was ‘perfect’. How to overcome this? The best way to earn respect is to do your job, so speak up when you need to and play to your strengths: if you need time to check details before giving instructions, do so because…

It’s OK if you don’t know the answer

One of the civil engineers working at a consultancy shared how she initially felt obligated to give an answer straight away when phoned with a query from a contractor. With support, she learned that it was completely acceptable for her to say ‘I’ll get back to you’ and call them back once she’d verified the information. In fact, she feels that the contractors respect her more now – they may not get instant answers, but they know they’ll get the correct ones.

Know your worth and ask for a pay rise (at the right time)

It’s often repeated in the media that, in general, women are more reticent than men when it comes to asking for a salary increase – and this is a perception that was shared by the professionals in the room. One professional explained how she had to gear herself up to ask for a pay rise. Although nervous, she got it. She asked at the end of a positive appraisal meeting and, in fact, negotiated more money than the salary rise she was initially offered. The moral of the story: if you don’t ask, you don’t get (just choose your moment).

Own your career

Most graduates find that they’re given a lot of support during the process of gaining their professional qualifications, but word from the professionals in the room was that you must take a proactive interest in your own progress as well. Keep fully aware of the competencies you still need to develop and discuss with your manager ways of achieving them. In terms of career progression, two different strands came up during our round table discussion. One was to have self-belief and to take on new challenges – one of the graduates there said how she was initially unsure of one of her rotations, but came to appreciate how the different experience would benefit her career. The second strand was that you don’t have to be constantly seeking that move upwards – it’s important to know how to get the most out of your current role and knowing when and if you’re ready to seek that next promotion.

Don’t worry: you're not at a disadvantage in the recruitment process

Female built environment graduates do just as well in the recruitment process as male graduates do – if not better. The recruiter present explained how, in general, the female applicants to her company tend to succeed during the recruitment process – and not because of any positive discrimination policy but just because they perform well. This echoes what numerous recruiters have told me over the years: that female graduates often come across as more mature and focused at the interview stage. A sweeping generalisation, perhaps, but it should give a boost of confidence to any female graduate seeking work in the built environment.

Thanks to Nottingham Trent University for inviting me along.

Take care,

Abi, editor