At the end of August, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Women in BIM ‘How to be an effective ally’ webinar. Women in BIM (WiB) – of which I am the Regional Lead for Scotland – is a global online community with a vision to support, empower and celebrate inclusion in BIM and digital construction professionals. This fantastic organisation is leading the charge in one of construction’s most significant pain-points – diversity and inclusion – and at the Construction Innovation Hub we are committed to joining the movement to establish and retain a more diverse industry.
I wanted to take the opportunity to continue this important conversation and extend some of the thoughts I shared during the webinar. As there is so much to cover on this extensive topic, Vicki Reynolds, Global Vice Chair of WiB (pictured centre left along with her colleagues from WiB), has kindly joined me for this blog post to share some top tips on becoming an ally.
6 top tips for becoming an ally
Mentorship & Sponsorship
Dave: I personally believe that one of the most powerful ways to increase diversity and inclusion in the built environment is to have visible role models to inspire current and upcoming generations. The more we can do to increase the visibility of women in technical roles, the more likely a school leaver will consider the built environment to be a viable career path. Once young professionals have started their careers, mentorship feels like the essential next step to nurture and retain talent and share experiences and learning amongst women at different stages of their career.
Vicki: Absolutely. A recent study revealed that the two biggest barriers for women in tech are a lack of mentors and a lack of female role models. A lack of support can impact gender diversity in tech as it can cause uncertainty for those who are interested in entering the industry. One of the main objectives of Women in BIM from the onset was to create an opportunity for women in this space to support and encourage each other, which is why we recently launched a mentoring programme and currently have 20 mentor/mentee matches across our network.
Inclusive workplace culture
Dave: Do you think the lack of female role models in the built environment and tech industries comes from a lack of inclusive workplace culture? In my opinion, we all need to play a part in developing an inclusive workplace, but it feels to me like one of the main areas we have fallen down upon as an industry in the past.
Vicki: Groupthink has been a real problem for the built environment, with boards, governing bodies and senior project teams often being made up of a cookie cutter “type” of executive. When most of a group are of the same viewpoint, and are also all a dominant personality type, it is almost impossible for the minority to comfortably speak out or propose alternative ideas. This is often what small digital teams are pushing against in larger organisations, and part of the reason for Women in BIM being established. We wanted to provide that extra level of support to those people who often felt like the odd one out in their own organisation.
The built environment is improving though, and over the past couple of years I’ve seen some positive shifts in the right direction to creating a more inclusive workplace culture. Project teams are becoming more diverse, and new ideas are being encouraged and celebrated more often
Attract and recruit
Dave: At the Construction Innovation Hub, one of our main drivers is to improve the image of construction and encourage new talent to join the industry. As construction becomes more digitised and adopts more advanced manufacturing practices, do you think the broadening of skillsets will attract more diverse entrants?
Vicki: Without a doubt. Having spoken to a few educational facilities recently, there is a frustratingly high dropout rate for construction, design and engineering related courses. When I’ve discussed this with new graduates, they often say that they assumed the industry would have been more digitally advanced than it is. We need to remain relevant to attract the best talent, and we need to attract the best talent to develop better tools and processes.
Flexibility and remote working
Dave: In recent months, many organisations have had to practice flexibility and remote working like never before. It seems to me that the necessity of working from home has proven itself as a valid option for so many of us, and it’s so important that flexible working can be adopted as the norm for those who require it to achieve a healthy work/life balance. What would be your advice to anyone struggling with this currently?
Vicki: I would say to identify what you need to stay operating at your best. It could be a support network like Women in BIM, finding a company with the right benefits, getting the right work/life balance, having a clear route to a leadership position, or something else completely different. No two women – or humans – are the same, so you need to really think about what makes you happy, so that you can then find a work-life that supports that.
Change the narrative
Dave: The narrative of our industry needs to change in order to open it up to a wider, more diverse pool of talent. The Hub is on a mission to transform the UK’s construction sector through digital and advanced manufacturing technologies, and it feels like once we start to talk about technology, robotics, advanced manufacture, value and so on, construction starts to feel like so much more of a forward-thinking place to be. Do you think that changing this narrative can help to foster diversity in built environment workplaces?
Vicki: Definitely! There’s a lot to be said about technology changing the architecture of our industry, making it more accessible to those who otherwise may not have considered it a viable career option. But I think it is important to think of it the other way around, too. We need to implement and maintain ever-evolving digital processes to deliver projects in a safer and more efficient manner, which will require new thinking and new ideas. It has been well documented that cognitively diverse teams produce better outcomes, and so it is in our best interest to attract and support a diverse workforce (in terms not only of gender, but also culture, race, age, socio economic factors, and many more).
From experience, the problem with gender diversity in the built environment isn’t that women don’t have the right skills, it’s that they don’t always feel as though they have the same opportunities and command the same respect as their male counterparts. We don’t need digital to foster diversity, we need to foster diversity to thrive digitally
Dave: Conversations like this are true examples of how we can collaborate as an industry and share ideas and practices to create a more inclusive sector that we can be proud to be a part of. Diversity is not the issue of one organisation or company – it’s so much bigger than that, which is why it’s so crucial we work together to create positive change. The Hub is always keen to support initiatives such as Women in BIM that champion the broadening of our industry. If anyone reading this wants to get involved with Women in BIM, how should they get in touch?
Vicki: We have two great ways that you can get involved! Women working in BIM or digital related roles can sign up to become a member at www.womeninbim.org, and that will give you access to a range of discount codes for events and blog content only available to our members. If you just want to keep up to date or if you are a male ally, we would love for you to join us on our social channels, where we lead public discussions and share a lot of other great content – Twitter: @WomeninBIM LinkedIn: Women in BIM
N.B. While this conversation focused on the lack of representation for people who identify as female, we acknowledge that there are similar but separate barriers to trans and non-binary people entering this field and we are looking for ways to be better allies to these communities as well. Your feedback is welcome and you are welcome.
David Philp is the Impact Director for Digital for the Construction Innovation Hub.
With over 25 years in industry David is a Chartered Construction Manager by background and Global Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Information Management (Consultancy Director) for AECOM. David has been involved in delivering innovative BIM and digital asset management strategies across the globe from UK, Hong-Kong, Singapore, Australia and the Baltics. He was seconded in the UK Cabinet Office in 2011 as Head of BIM Implementation and has been a key contributor to the UK public sector BIM mandate (GCS 2011-2016).
Vicki Reynolds is the Global Vice Chair for Women in BIM.
Vicki is also the Head of Digital for i3PT and CertCentral, responsible for digital strategy and product development. Previously she has worked in information management, BIM management and digital construction across a number of high-profile construction projects delivering digital solutions, implementing new technology, and upskilling individuals and organisations. She is an active member of the BIM and digital construction community both locally and globally, and as well as her role at Women in BIM, is also an ambassador for the UK BIM Alliance and is part of the CIOB’s special interest group for digital. Vicki works hard to promote digital construction to women and girls, and has delivered workshops and lectures in the UK, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, India and China.