Designing a fulfilling career in construction

engineering genders


Jessica Hargreaves wants to change people’s views on the kind of jobs offered by the construction industry. She feels they are still fairly narrow, involving either administrative work in the office or building out on sites.

Her job as a design manager involves project management skills, seeing projects through from beginning to end, and she gets to move around and work on different projects with different people. The job involves a variety of sought-after skills and includes issues such as assessing the environmental impact of buildings and reducing waste. IT skills are also very important as all pre-construction plans for projects are generated on the computer.

Jessica did a BA in Architecture, but decided architecture was not really for her so she applied for a variety of jobs and was offered one with Costain on their graduate training scheme.  She worked as assistant design manager on a new office building in Mayfair before moving on to the Channel Tunnel project at St Pancras where she was design coordinator.

After a stint at Willmott Dixon Housing where she designed social housing and care homes for the elderly, she moved to ISG in 2007 where she remained for seven years, working on offices and data centres. She rejoined Willmott Dixon in 2014 and is now based in Hitchin where she has been designing schools and leisure centres.

She says: “Until I worked for Willmott Dixon Construction I was always on site. At Willmott Dixon I am involved from the concept stage onwards. I find that a lot more interesting. You have more influence over the cost and design and functionality.  I meet with the schools and there is a lot of engagement to find out what they want from the building.”

She has also been impressed by Willmott Dixon’s culture. “Willmott Dixon has a different work culture. They put the customer first and there is an emphasis on the community which I haven’t experienced at other companies,” she says, citing outreach in schools and working with local charities.


Jessica has three children – twins aged eight and a daughter who is two. She took a year off from her job at ISG after having the twins and came back on three days a week in the office and one day working from home.

She noticed that others around her were being promoted and she wasn’t. At first she was too busy with adjusting to work and family life, but she began to think about her career progression after a while. She was told she was not promoted because promotion in that division meant having to travel abroad.  

She switched to another division where there was competition for the post of senior design manager. She was told that it was expected that the senior manager would go out socialising on Thursday nights – something, as a mother of young children, she did not want to do. She decided to leave. “I felt that I was perceived as a working mum when I came back from maternity leave and I was not going to get promoted,” she says, adding that it was probably more unconscious than deliberate. “The assumption is that you have a lot on your plate and you are not as interested in your career,” she adds.

At Willmott Dixon she has had the opposite experience.  Her manager was very supportive when she went on maternity leave. Jessica returned in September to an equivalent role to the one she had before but with extra responsibilities, which sets her up for promotion.

Before her third child, Jessica worked full time, but three longer days and two shorter ones. She now works part time – 4.5 days a week, doing longer days earlier in the week so she can have Fridays off.

Jessica, who has done outreach work at schools with Willmott Dixon, says she thinks part of the problem getting girls into the industry is that people don’t understand what it has to offer.

“I have worked on some very interesting projects,” she says, “and I would like to think that a lot of the work has had a positive impact. I have also worked with lovely people in a stimulating environment which is hugely enjoyable and fun.”

*Find out more about Willmott Dixon here.

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