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Over the next month Workingmums.co.uk is focusing on one of the industry sectors which came in for most criticism over the gender pay audits: construction. We want to highlight examples of good practice where employers are making progress and where flexible working, positive promotion and more are helping women make inroads into a male-dominated sector in order to counter claims that change is too difficult, particularly in technical, on-site roles.
Alexandra Brown is a senior development manager. She has worked in the construction industry in a development management capacity for almost 20 years, the last 11 of which have been with Lendlease, based in London.
Alexandra, whose children are aged eight and two, has worked flexibly since she returned from her first period of maternity leave. She currently works four days a week, tries to work from home at least one day a week and also works flexi hours so she can pick up or drop her children at least one other day a week. Her husband is able to work flexibly and they share school and nursery pick-ups and drop-offs.
She says Lendlease focuses on output rather than presenteeism. “They trust me to get my work down and I really appreciate that,” she says.
Over the years she has tweaked her working pattern as home routines have changed, for instance, when her daughter moved from nursery to school, and says being able to have open and honest conversations with her manager about the challenges of being a working parent and about making adjustments where necessary can remove obstacles and improve productivity. “Businesses are getting better at recognising employees’ need for flexible working and its benefits,” she says. “Lendlease recognises the links between flexible working and health and wellbeing and understands that through flexible working they are nurturing a happy, healthy workforce.”
She thinks it is important to have positive role models for flexible working, including part-time working, who are both male and female. However, she acknowledges that getting a good balance between work and family life and being able to be fully present in both worlds can be a challenge – the desire to go the extra mile and keep on top of work whilst at home can sometimes be hard to resist, but can undermine the importance of role modelling positive life balance behaviours both for her colleagues and her children.
Alexandra has no close family nearby and says it is vital to have a good support network, at home and at work. She adds that having a network of friends facing similar challenges in other industries helps maintain perspective.
To address the lack of women in the construction industry, particularly at senior levels, and the impact that has on the gender pay gap, she believes that career awareness should start in primary school. “It is important that gender stereotyping does not preclude children from making choices about their education that can later lead to avenues being closed off. This is particularly important in STEM subjects as well as the built environment,” she says. Alexandra is working with her daughter’s school on an event to challenge gender stereotypes for the next International Women’s Day.
She herself only got into the industry by chance. As a child she loved Lego and mapping out towns for her brother’s toy cars, but her local FE college said the only option available to her was a brick laying course; it was only when looking at a university prospectus that she came across a degree course in Land Management.
Outreach to the next generation is just one part of the jigsaw, though, and Lendlease itself is doing well at the graduate recruitment level: some 63% of its most recent intake were female.
Alexandra thinks the industry could do more to broaden its candidate pool by raising awareness about the industry among working women more generally to attract those in other sectors with transferable skills.
The big changes with regard to tackling the gender pay gap and promoting more women into senior positions will come through employers promoting flexible working and encouraging uptake of Shared Parental Leave, she says. “It is an exciting time to be in the industry. There is much we can do to address the challenges of flexible working including part-time working and help open up opportunities for all working parents.”
*If you are interested in working for Lendlease, see their employer profile on our site here.