Diversity and well-being in construction

28 August 2019

Diversity and well being in construction Does the diversity of a team affect well-being and performance? Three women draw on their industry experiences. In our latest edition of Building Sight, we look at the increasing focus on wellbeing from an industry perspective such as how it could impact on the built environments we create, how technology is improving occupational health and the risk of psychological injury due to stress.

Construction companies are waking up to the fact that more diverse teams lead to better results.

In some cases, clients are demanding diversity. For instance, in the US, federal agencies are targeted to award 5% of their prime contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses.

For others, diversity is just good business sense. Research from McKinsey in 2017 found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

“Getting different perspectives helps to improve decision-making and integration with clients,” says Katie Cromie, a recent graduate in Marsh JLT Specialty’s construction team in New York. “If you all think the same way, you may not come up with the best solution.”

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Well-being is a significant piece in the diversity-productivity puzzle. The way people feel and behave at work has a huge impact on both individual and team performance.

“Being in a team where there are other people like you gives you a sense of security; you aren’t looking around, wondering whether you should be there,” says Shannon Whalen, VP, construction casualty placement, for Marsh JLT Specialty in New York. “That security leads to a sense of happiness and feelings of self-worth and that makes you more productive.”

But it isn’t just gender balance that is important, as explained by three female construction professionals, all with experience of working in a variety of teams, who spoke out on what contributes to their well-being and productivity.

Esin PektasEsin Pektas

Architect and engineer, New York

Esin Pektas is extremely well-placed to talk about the dynamics of different teams. A qualified architect and engineer, she started working in architectural offices in Turkey when she was 16.

Since then, she has worked in major design practices in New York and China, has created women-only projects alongside Syrian refugees, and now runs her own design and construction management business, supported by her LGBTQ+ friendly design office in Istanbul.

“I am most productive when everything is balanced,” she says. “I love drafting and designing but I love building too. I like working inside and outside. A good team needs a balance of genders, age, experience, race, culture, and education levels.”

Pektas believes firmly that teams should be gender balanced, not only in offices but out on site, too. “When you have women workers, LGBTQ+ workers, and people with different life experiences, language and behavior changes,” she says. “Everybody’s awareness improves and the use of space changes.”

Even with her many years of experience — 15 in New York City alone — Pektas still finds that she has to prove herself in new work environments. “There’s no harassment, but people can be condescending,” says Pektas.

“In the office, everybody pretends to know everything, nobody dares to ask questions in case it shows a lack of knowledge. If you are young, a woman, if you have a foreign accent… it takes months sometimes.

However, proving yourself on site takes much less time than in an office,” says Pektas. “You cannot fake it on site. Your knowledge and experience become obvious very quickly.”

Zoe HodgsonZoe Hodgson

Electrical engineer, Chelmsford (UK)

When Zoe Hodgson started her apprenticeship as an electrical engineer, aged 16, she was the only girl on the course.

“It was a bit of a culture shock, not to have any girls there,” she says. “Guys talk about things that you would not talk about with girls. There is a lot more banter. Having females definitely softens the atmosphere.”

Hodgson, now with seven years’ experience under her belt, is today in the unusual position of working on a site that is almost balanced in terms of gender: a vast new Jehovah’s Witness live-work community in Essex, UK, where around 40% of the workforce is female.

“I think you get more variety of skill sets when there are men and women on a team, and there are people from all nationalities here, too,” she says. “You all bring different things to the team and you can learn from each other. We are really fortunate here in that everyone listens to each other.”

She contrasts that with her time as an apprentice where she was one of only a few women at the company. “A lot of guys had the idea that it was not a girl’s job,” she says. “I just ignored the comments and showed that I could do the job. Once I had showed them that I could do things as well as they could, sometimes better, they came to accept me.”

Hodgson would like to see more young women following her into the electrical trades. “I wish that more people knew that girls can do it, as well as guys. If there were more women in the industry, it would make sites nicer places, in my opinion.”

Anna OlliverAnna Olliver

Tunnel engineer, Doha

For Anna Olliver, design lead and tunnel engineer for the international consultancy firm, Jacobs, in Doha, it isn’t diversity of gender as much as diversity of culture that makes for good team dynamics.

A sixth-generation underground worker whose father was also a geotechnical engineer, Olliver is currently working with a group of engineers and other professionals from all over the world on the construction of a huge sewer in Doha.

There are women working on the project in various roles, says Olliver, although the proportion is lower here than in Sweden where she studied.

Over her 15-year career, Olliver has encountered different attitudes toward female engineers in different regions. As a junior engineer, she admits that the macho culture in some European countries made visits to some sites daunting.

“However, the diversity overall, in terms of cultures and nationalities, works really well here because it has brought a lot of different viewpoints in,” she says.

“We have lots of interesting discussions and some of the solutions we have come up with have been very positive, both from a management and technical perspective.”

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  • Richard GurneyRichard Gurney

    Richard is the Global Head of the Construction Practice at Marsh JLT Specialty.

    Richard joined Marsh in April 2019 following the acquisition of JLT where he had worked since 2002. Formerly Global Head of Construction at JLT Specialty and also Head of Claims, Richard has worked in the London insurance market for 29 years. He accumulated extensive experience working with many of the group’s major Construction clients and on some of the world’s largest projects. 

    Past responsibilities also include being a non-executive director on the board of JLT India and overall responsibility for the wholly owned JLT claims consultancy, Echelon.

    If you would like to talk about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Richard Gurney, Global head of construction on +44 (0)203 394 0387.

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