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Last night our director Cristina participated in her first event for #IWD2020: The “Women at Mace launch panel event”.

Chaired by the Chief Operations Officer and Group Board Sponsor for Women at Mace , Mark Castle, a panel of Diversity and Inclusion specialists with longstanding careers in the field provided insight on specific areas of expertise.

Cristina, whose seven years experience leading NAWIC London and South East had been recognised by providing her with a seat at such an impressive table, contributed with a presentation focused on the value of relationships when looking to address the lack of diversity in our industry and actionable initiatives to reduce the gender pay-gap. (The text can be read below)

The other speakers were:

Harish Bhayani, Founder and Senior Partner of PRIM Diversity Consultants.

Siri Nomme, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, EMEA at Norton Rose Fullbright LLP.

Kevin Bowsher, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Mace, HS2 Project

Catharine Oliver, Diversity and Inclusion advisor, Educating Matters

It was a very positive session which opened lines of communication resulting in a very honest conversation at the end.

We hope the Women at Mace Network can fulfil its potential and demonstrate its contribution will extend beyond the company's diversity agenda and benefit of all its employees.

Read Cristina's presentation :

“Before i start I want to thank you for inviting me today and to congratulate you for taking this step forward. Many companies are still struggling to have difficult conversations and we know it is important in order to create the change our industry needs.

Prior to setting up my own architectural studio I worked in regeneration roughly for ten years. In that context, I quickly became aware of the advantages to be found in building teams where individuals holding a range of views and experiences complemented rather than replicated one another.

  • In order to work successfully with each other, this type of groups seemed to adopt open lines of communication, a shared sense of purpose and mutual respect from day one.And the backgrounds and uniqueness of each individual acted as a levelling factor where everyone’s experience was as valuable.

  • Asking questions and owning up to mistakes were encouraged and assimilated as part of the process and all viewpoints were heard to make sure our solutions were both robust and considered. When it came to community engagement this approach helped us reach out to local stakeholders who in seeing this felt comfortable opening up and adding value to the projects.

However, despite the many benefits, I could find, I also learned many people around us (even within the office), saw this as too much effort when compared to recruiting people who looked like them, share similar backgrounds, and “got them” which was far more comforting.

At the time I lacked the vocabulary (or the data) to make a business case for diversity and inclusion and eventually left my senior role to focus on my own studio.

My case is not unique. Like me, many other women with decades of experience are leaving commercial or corporate practices to set up on their own or move to other industries and in doing so, we are contributing to the gender gap.

How, you may ask? … well data is telling us that even if every man and woman were paid equally for the same work/value (as the law requires) the gap would still be there because to close the gender pay gap we need to increase female presence in jobs which attract higher salaries. i.e. in leadership.

Construction has a culture of long hours and uninterrupted availability which historically have been seen as “part of the job” when it comes to leadership roles. However the workforce now includes a wider range of individuals who want to thrive, but who cannot afford to disregard their responsibilities beyond the office.

Furthermore, life is no longer linear, and the traditional career ladder does not have room to accommodate this, which is which is why i think we should start by replacing it with a more flexible “climbing frame” and a new definition of success.

We have the technology and the imagination to design our jobs differently and collaboration could hold the key to increasing the number of women in leadership roles. i.e. Studies are showing part time and flexible working arrangements could make a real difference but in order to succeed

  • part-time work can no longer be delivering a full-time job without the salary or seniority

  • career progression on a part-time basis should be possible and

  • men should also be able to opt for part-time or flexible working too

In addition to this, companies need to start working on talent planning. Something which traditionally “happened naturally”. This would require

  • To provide transparency in career advancement opportunities

  • The development of gender inclusive policies to include parental leave, for example.

  • Formalised in house Sponsorship programmes,

  • Male advocates, mentoring and peer-buddy (for new recruits)

  • But also returnships programmes to support parents and senior employees

When Recruiting for leadership we need to make changes too. Some companies have already started

  • Refusing to review a pool of candidates unless the group is comparable in skills and diverse in its nature.

  • They have started hiring diverse leadership from other industries and training them on the unique characteristics of construction

  • They have moved office-based female and BAME managers to site roles to signal career advancement opportunities to site staff

  • Another great idea I have heard about is removing the “previous salary question” which studies show can negatively impact women’s earnings for life

Going back to my earlier story…when I left my last architectural employment, and probably as a reaction, I begun to dedicate a considerable time to volunteering across many diversity driven platforms

Throughout all those experiences, I have met thousands of remarkable women who are working and excelling in their jobs within our industry and who will become leaders in no time.

It has been an honour to be part of the group of volunteers who give their time to support those women in a way their companies didn’t and just as we would have loved to be supported ourselves.

Understanding their struggles and challenges and learning from their experience has been invaluable to me both as an architect (running design teams) and as a person.

Last year, we hosted 23 events attended by 1000 people which is quite remarkable considering we all have a full time job. Some of the most popular initiatives included

  • Formalised networking opportunities

  • Peer to peer mentoring  

  • Skills Training (with topics such as negotiation skills, purposeful networking, mental health, public speaking, leadership,

  • Business planning,

  • Returning to work, bias training, mindset…)

I am sharing this to illustrate the demand for what your team are starting here today.

As a final thought I want to say that many overlook the fact that male-lead environments not only limit women’s advancement. Men are often held to historical standards and stereotypes which are unhelpful when it comes to delivering increasingly complex projects.

The male suicide rates within our industry are the highest of any industry and the pressures of day to day project delivery are mining the mental and physical health of our workforce.

Embracing a diverse workforce will prompt us to open the dialogue and find solutions which will benefit all of us. Furthermore, with more awareness, the mono-cultural blind spots can be addressed and as an industry we might get a fighting chance to address some of the barriers which are preventing us to overcome the skills gap.

One piece of advice you would give to our leadership team

Share enough of the vision to inspire the team to join you in the journey and then involve them in identifying the challenges and exploring solutions.

The costliest mistake I have seen companies do is developing policies which impact the entire workforce by two people in a room who then went on to impose them upon the entire workforce without consultation."


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