Perspectives

Diversity is key to the future of construction

Saturday 23 June is International Women in Engineering Day, an annual global celebration of the achievements of female engineers.

Natalie Bowkett, a Senior Construction Engineer at Mace, reflects on how important diversity is to Mace’s construction engineering team.

Construction is rapidly changing, with companies around the world developing innovative ways to build the homes and offices of the future to meet the ever increasing demand.

I was personally involved in one such project, as the lead site based Construction Engineer on Mace’s innovative Jump Factory project at N08 East Village in Stratford, East London. I managed the design, helped deliver and operate the Jump Factories and now I am responsible for their safe removal.

Creating and implementing a new construction methodology is a big challenge, and one that couldn’t have happened without effective collaboration between the project team, our supply chain and our client.

Now that the factories have completed their purpose – allowing us, at peak, to deliver two towers, each standing at 18 storeys in just 18 weeks – we are able to reflect on why we felt able to take that such a bold step at Mace.

Part of it is the strength of our Construction Engineering team. We are small team with a range of experience and from different backgrounds, and I think that diversity definitely plays a role in delivering these complex projects.

We are able to tap into a broad spectrum of perspectives that helps us to solve complex problems and come up with transformative ideas.

When I am asked what I do, people don’t expect me to say that I’m a Construction Engineer.

After a brief silence the next question is usually: “How do you find it being a woman?”

I have been very fortunate in my career, and in my own personal experience, being a woman in my role has rarely been an issue. I have never felt out of place on a building site, or that my ideas and skills were less valued than those of my male peers.

That’s not to say there aren’t very real issues for other women and that many haven’t experienced discrimination throughout their careers. Thankfully in the twenty years I have been in the construction industry it has changed, and is still changing, dramatically for the better. Sites these days are a real mix of individuals from all walks of life and identities.

I think people do have the wrong perception of construction these days. Most people, including many young people, have a negative and out-of-date view of the industry, something which we are at Mace are working hard to redress.   

It is up to all of us, from tier one contractors and the supply chain down to individuals, to change those perceptions and convince young people that there is a future for them in construction.

Our sector is facing a serious skills shortage. Engineers, as well as other construction professionals, are in huge demand here in the UK and we are not developing enough of them fast enough to deliver our ambitious infrastructure pipeline. Too few young people, regardless of gender, see engineering as a future for them – and it’s down to us as engineers to change that.

At Mace I manage the engineering cohort of the Apprenticeship scheme, something we are very proud of and see as a great way to develop the best emerging talent.

And this week, I am visiting a girls’ school just outside of London. I will to talk to them about my contribution to some of the most exciting construction projects in the world, and how I’ve worked my way up to earn my Chartership with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

I am hoping to inspire at least one young female to take the leap and join construction and I would encourage everyone to do the same – the future of the industry depends on you!
East Village jump factory

“I have never felt out of place on a building site, or that my ideas and skills were less valued than those of my male peers.”