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Sunday 8 March 2020

This year, International Women’s Day is focusing on gender equality, encouraging people to “actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements”.

According to the UK’s Construction Industry Training Board, only 14.5% of construction workers are female.

Approximately 20% of our employees are female. In a traditionally, male-dominated environment, we are actively encouraging more women to join our industry and have developed a Diversity & Inclusion Plan to help drive change. The Civil Engineering Apprenticeship we helped establish with Fareham College has also made an impact, bringing us our first female apprentice groundworker in 2019.

Many of our women employees are excelling in specialist roles and to mark International Women’s Day we are celebrating their work and encouraging more women to look on construction as a positive career choice.

Some of the roles women at Knights Brown hold include trainee and senior quantity surveyor, graduate and senior engineer, IT support analyst, divisional commercial manager, director, planner, HSQE advisor, business development manager, framework manager and apprentice groundworker. They have some things in common when it comes to why they love construction, and they all have sound advice for women starting out on their careers.

Eve Elsey joined Fareham College on the Civil Engineering Apprenticeship last year and is really enjoying the variety of work. She’s just 20 years old and already getting experience on sites ranging from roadworks on the A303 to groundworks for the MOD at Tidworth Camp. Eve wasn’t sure what reception she’d get before she started but she’s found everyone to be really supportive. Other members in the team let her get stuck into the work and try it for herself just as anyone else would, and if she doesn’t have the physical strength they support and help her complete the task.

Eve’s advice is: “Just try it, there are so many options and opportunities, more than I ever realised. There is a lot of help and support from people on site, and if you can’t do something someone will always help you. Get stuck in and have a go – you can’t judge anything until you try it.”

What our women enjoy most about working in construction

Everyone loves the variety and challenge. The projects, locations, and teams that they get to work with change regularly no matter what the role, and this keeps the work interesting and rewarding.

Trainee Quantity Surveyor, Karlie Buckley told us: “I moved from working in hospitality into construction. I really thought I would be in hospitality forever and didn’t know much about the work of a quantity surveyor. Now here I am, two and a half years in construction working for Knights Brown as a trainee QS. People skills are essential in hospitality and mine have proved to be just as vital in my work now. I really enjoy seeing the work I’m involved with progress and have always felt comfortable as a young woman in the industry. Everyone has been very welcoming.”

With a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Southampton, Jessica Miles joined our team as senior engineer. “Seeing projects through from drawing to completion is really rewarding. It’s really exciting to see our projects transform an area or community. I like the practical side of the work, getting outside and being at the heart of things. People often don’t understand what’s involved in our jobs so it’s important to show our work and talk to people about it. I have visited schools, especially girls’ schools to talk about my work and the industry as a whole. There’s always lots of interest when people see what’s involved”.

Stephanie Younes has recently been promoted to section engineer and has been with us for two years after studying for four years for a BA and then an MA in Civil Engineering at Cardiff University. She is part of the team on our Gatwick Airport framework and relishes the responsibility.

Stephanie joined our team of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) volunteers last year, spending two weeks in Uganda helping build a footbridge over a fast flowing river to connect the community with markets, healthcare and education. B2P’s mission is to relieve the poverty caused by rural isolation. For Stephanie the project was a brilliant experience. She also saw how the local women were treated very differently to what we expect in the UK.

“The Ugandan women were really keen to get to work on the bridge and excited to see it develop. They worked incredibly hard, teaching me how to use a shovel properly, like they do on their land. But what took me by surprise was how the local men were not happy with them working on the bridge. They expected the women to be doing their traditional work on small holdings, not working alongside them. Eventually the men did come around to accepting it and everyone worked together well. It was lovely for us to see the people who would benefit from the bridge, actively involved in building it,”

Women often bring a different perspective to developing relationships both within teams and with customers. Two women lead our framework with Port of Dover. Agnieszka Avery, Framework Manager and Louise Hooley, Framework and Commercial Lead at the Port of Dover.

“We work as one team to deliver projects for the Port of Dover Framework. We’re on site, in the same office, at the heart of the project and the team. Working together from the two sides of the delivery contract means we get the best outcomes for the framework. It’s a partnership and we’re equals with each other and the team.”

Dispelling common misconceptions

Like all industries, construction has changed a lot and those who’ve been in it for 20 years have witnessed that first hand, from basics like having female toilets on site, to being fully accepted as part of the team. While there will always be room for improvement, the industry has changed significantly and the stereotypical perception of construction sites with laddish behaviour are very much a thing of the past.

Donna Sullivan, Divisional Commercial Manager has worked in construction for 25 years: “When I first started, I was the only woman in the room 99% of the time, now that happens perhaps only 15% of the time.”

Sue Durrani, Senior Quantity Surveyor says: “I used to plan a stop at a service station en route to site because there were no loos for us girls to use 20 years ago. But now it’s completely different.”

We are working in various ways to encourage more women to join our team. We actively advocate for more diversity and inclusiveness in our business. Through working on initiatives like our apprenticeship scheme, reaching out to schools and colleges, having conversations about it, and highlighting the work we are doing, all help more women to visualise a potential career in construction.

Long hours are a feature of working on site and can act as a deterrent so we take a flexible approach where we can to accommodate the needs of workers.

Advice from the front line

“Go for it, it’s a really rewarding industry to work in, it’s very interesting and you learn different things all the time”.
Kelly Meredith Jones, Business Development Manager

“Don’t underestimate people. There is a lot of knowledge out there to gather, build relationships and use it to build your own knowledge and experience”.
Debbie Mears, Senior Quantity Surveyor

“Sometimes there’s a perception that because you’re a young woman who hasn’t taken the traditional route, you can’t do the job. Prove to yourself and others that you can. The normal route to being a planner is working your way up through the industry. But I came from working in industry software. I found the work the teams I was speaking to through my software role really interesting, and made the move when I was 24. It’s been the best decision I have made”.
Charlotte Underhill, Planner, Southern Division

“My advice is to ignore the stereotypes that you may expect from construction. I moved from retail to construction and have found that I have everything I need to perform and get my work done. It comes down to having a good work ethic, knowing what needs to be done and getting it done. I work in IT, built my first PC at the age of 8 and I’ve always been technically minded. I have been awarded for my work at Knights Brown for my part in implementing a big IT project for the whole business. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do a job – with the right attitude you can prove them wrong.”
Charlotte Buckley, IT Support Analyst

“There is so much knowledge in this company and our department is supported by leadership who really listen to our advice and guidance. I find the industry fascinating and I get to work on some really complex projects at a range of stages. The industry is not for the work shy but it’s also not the stereotypical view of builders on site. Everyone is welcome, and can get on, success is about personality and attitude, and not our gender“. Claire Bithrey, HSQE Advisor

“Be you, don’t try to be someone you’re not, don’t conform, but instead embrace being who you are and what you can bring to a business. It’s our differences that we bring to a group, that make us all better as a whole”. Sarah Whittle, People and Talent Director

Who are Knights Brown?

Knights Brown is a privately owned, multidisciplinary, regional construction business. We work on a huge range of projects from highways and bridges to fire and police stations, schools and ports. The variety of our work gives us the opportunity to keep learning and developing. This can be a challenge but we think of ourselves as problem solvers so we love it. Being determined and resilient goes with the territory.

Originally a family business, we still have a very friendly and open culture. Our leadership team is especially approachable and always available for any of our people. Like most modern businesses, we understand the importance of home life too. We adapt to accommodate different needs as we know many people have caring and other responsibilities away from work.

We’re continually looking for opportunities to improve how we do things to be an attractive place to work. We want all our people to be happy, fulfilled and believe in what we do together.

Interested in joining us?

If you like the sound of us and would be interested in joining Knights Brown, take a look at our current vacancies or drop your CV to us speculatively by email.