International Women’s Day 8 March 2018

8th March 2018

Nailing the gender imbalance – the O’Keefe Group looks at the changing face of the construction industry

Women have made great advances in the world of work. The employment rate continues to go up and today shows that there are more women in work than ever before. Although a recent ONS (Office of National Statistics) report has confirmed that women make up only around 13 per cent of the Construction industry’s workforce, steps are now being taken to encourage a steady stream of women into the sector. 

Here within the O’Keefe Group, we are working hard to ensure that we continue to adopt an inclusive and fair approach by making new and existing opportunities available to women.

Here are just a few practical insights and positive experiences of some of our successful female employees who we are proud to see smashing through the glass ceiling, championing diversity and breaking down the image of what it is to be a woman in construction.

Rising through the ranks

Roisin Flynn, working for the demolition division, was recently promoted to trainee PM (project manager). She has worked to carve out her own career in the business and is hugely optimistic about her career prospects and future within the sector. She is also a big advocate of the inclusive approach being adopted by the industry: In her own words, Roisin explains her journey so far:

“I started working for the O’Keefe Group almost 2 years ago, now. My first job was as a document controller based at Streatham Hill. Having not had any previous experience within the construction sector my aim was purely to learn as much as possible, so I could eventually progress and carve out a career within the industry. Whilst I was based at Streatham I undertook regular site visits and tours which helped me gain an invaluable insight and working knowledge as to how to run and operate a site. After 8 months in the role, I was relocated to the Demolition Division of the business to work for Andrew Farquharson and from there, my role just grew as I took on more and more responsibility. Alongside working, I studied for several different accreditations which helped reinforce my working knowledge of the industry and equip me with additional regulatory and law-based knowledge.

I am now a trainee PM with a view to becoming a fully-fledged PM.

In my view, the construction industry is fast becoming much more switched-on to the prospect of increasing its female workforce. My experience and career progression has been extremely positive, and my future ambitions have been met with nothing but support and encouragement from the business’ senior management team and my colleagues. I am looking forward to the prospect of a bright future for women across the industry.”

Construction – not just a man’s world

Michelle Rice, the O’Keefe Group’s health & safety leader, joined the business last year. She has worked in safety for 9 years having initially cut her teeth in the metal and recycling industry. In her own words, she talks about her own journey to date and explains her views on the diverse approach being adopted by the industry to attract and retain women.

“Being a woman in a high-risk male dominated sector is not a disadvantage, in fact, and in my view, in safety, it can only be an advantage. A women’s skillset is no different to that of a man’s. However, women, overall, tend to score highly when it comes to being emotionally intelligent and being more open and more communicative. This is something I’ve learnt and seen first-hand. A woman working on site and raising potential issues to a male colleague or briefing them on a new safety initiative will always be welcomed and accepted more than, say, a man carrying out the same role.

I am passionate about safety. I believe in it and I believe in my job. I care about the conditions people operate in and that has always made me a force to be reckoned with. In my view, people tend buy in to the WHY and not the WHAT, so on top of being a strategist, and having experience, I’ve found that being a successful and respected leader means leading with your heart as well as your head. Being people-centric and empathetic are the most powerful assets when it comes to changing culture and embedding the right values into a business and I’m excited about the journey we’re all on.”

From Heritage Management to Construction    

Kate Wheaton recently joined the Kent Division of the business as a planner. She is enjoying her new role within the O’Keefe Group and is also excited by the industry’s approach to attracting and retaining females within the workforce.

“I first came into the world of construction 11 years ago as a project manager.  It was a different world from Heritage Management, my previous career, but the industry offered so much scope and an exciting range of different opportunities, it was too good an opportunity not to explore these. I started off working as a tender-stage planner and a bid writer. It was an area that I liked and worked hard to become good in. Eventually I was trained properly and qualified with a Batchelor of Science with Honours degree. Fast forward to today, and I am now a part-time working mum operating as a Planner.  It’s a great job and business to be part of. The industry is beginning to show real signs of change in how it promotes and rewards its female workforce. It’s clear that its doors really are open to women.”

Moving up the Construction Ladder

Jo Strahan, senior systems and quality manager, describes her journey within the sector. “I started my career in the construction sector around fifteen years ago. I have worked on a wide variety of projects across the sector ranging in size, scale, and complexity. These have given me an in-depth understanding of the project life-cycle and the controls required to manage the processes.

I joined the O’Keefe Group at the end of 2017 and currently inputting into the group strategy, overseeing its management systems and helping identify high level risks and opportunities for the business. People may ask how I cope in such a male-dominated sector, and I always tell them that the construction industry is one of the most diverse and inclusive sectors where you’re judged for your ability to do your job and not just your gender. It is the increasing diversity and the variety of individuals working in the industry that makes it such an exciting sector.

I am a huge supporter in equality across all industries, especially the construction sector, and as a twice-nominated finalist for the Women in Construction Awards, I look forward to the sector achieving true equality where everyone is recognised equally and together for their successes. The O’Keefe Group really does celebrate success, in all ways, and is committed to actively supporting its workforce and making it an inclusive one.”

Looking to the future

Our company secretary, Vicky Lessey, has been with the Group for nearly 40 years.  She has managed her own career and worked her way up through the business to becoming a senior member of the Group’s board. In her own words, she describes her view of the changing industry:

“The construction industry has always honoured hard work. If you work hard, you get recognised and respected for it and with that comes opportunity. At the O’Keefe Group we have always been a business that embraces an inclusive and welcoming approach to both women and men who want to grow their careers with us. We always look to adopt a fair approach and a flexible working policy.  We want to attract and retain the best to ensure that we have a diverse and able workforce. The industry is changing, and diversity is really beginning to show through.”

The O’Keefe Group has many more talented female employees rising through the ranks and discovering the many opportunities within construction; Cally Worboys, the Group’s business support manager, Janet De Allie, the Kent Division’s tender and admin assistant, and Sherice Brown, Diana Tanc, Sandra Morris and Sharon Day all senior document controllers working across the business.

Overall, greater diversity will bring a lot to the construction industry. New ideas and thinking will help shape its future and enable the industry to do things better. The world is forever changing, and the industry needs to recognise this and adapt.