Encouraging Gender Diversity In Construction

By June Ramli

Despite the construction industry being open to diversity, women only make up about a tenth of the number. The construction industry is determined to promote gender diversity in its teams offering real opportunities for career development.

Women are now taking full advantage of opportunities offered by this industry that is facing difficulties in hiring employees with highly specialised profiles. Hirers are gradually changing their stance. One such trailblazer is Lynette Siow (pictured above), Saint-Gobain – Managing Director for Malaysia & Singapore who is seen taking that jump at not only being that talented craft professional. She is becoming a mentor, leader and advocate for future girls who seek an opportunity in the industry.

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The construction workforce is evolving in many positive ways, especially as it actively embraces diversity and technology. Undeniably, a career in construction offers plenty of opportunities and benefits.

The most important thing companies can do is to create and provide a culture that is positive, supportive, and encourages personal and company-wide success. Companies have to set and actively enforce a culture that encourages all employees to treat each other with care and respect and to support one another in a positive, constructive manner every single day. Once that culture is in place, a lot of the traditional beliefs and stereotypes commonly associated with the industry goes away.

In this career profile piece, we dispel some of the myths that revolve around working in the construction industry, with Lynette giving us an honest insight into the industry through this interview.

What is your university background and what was your first job?

With over 13 years of experience in building materials and six years of working experience in Europe. Born and bred in historical Malacca, a BA (Hons) Business Admin (First Class Honor) from Universiti Putra Malaysia. I started my career as a business development executive in the automotive industry, responsible for developing new markets in Europe. As a BD Executive, I was required to travel independently to Europe 4-5 times per year (stay in Europe at least a month for each time travel) to conduct market research for export business, prepare proposals for clients, project management for new product launching, liaise with customers to ensure customer satisfaction and to maintain the good working relationship as well as project company image globally.

How did you get your start in the construction industry?

I gained experience and exposure from the export business in Europe and later on was allowed to explore the construction industry in Europe. Started my career at a tile manufacturer based in Malaysia with a strong footprint in Europe. After spending six years in Europe, I then decided to move back to Asia and continue my passion in the construction industry.

Did you ever feel out of place since the construction industry in Asia is more inclined towards men hires?

In reality, female representation in the workplace has increased enormously during recent decades in most developed countries; furthermore, women have begun to enter traditionally male-dominated jobs owing to economic reasons and organizational changes in the worksite setting. The issue of women’s underrepresentation in the construction industry has been of great concern since the early 1980s. Women often choose a career in the construction industry if the work environment is challenging, provides good working conditions and fosters a sense of responsibility. Most women who join the construction industry are willing to take on certain challenges and are motivated to adapt to the environment, which is still dependent upon an individual’s decision.
I don’t feel out of place, as I have staff whom I respect and vice versa. Employers are drawing on the skills of people from a wide range of backgrounds to make the most of advances in technology and ways of working. I’m lucky that a company like Saint-Gobain has provided me with this opportunity. As the industry evolved, construction jobs and workplaces have become fairer, inclusive and more respectful, with firms focusing on nurturing and retaining high-performing staff from all backgrounds.
In conclusion, I would say that this is a tough industry, there’s no doubt about it. We have to put in more effort to prove ourselves. We need to be very hands-on and very technically sound to earn the respect.

Like all things, why should women join the construction industry?

At Saint-Gobain, we realize that diversity and inclusion is a concept as broad as the universe we inhabit. With so many rewards and benefits of working in the industry, there’s plenty of room for career progression and skill development. So it’s an industry worth looking into as there are many benefits to why women should consider a career in construction like Leadership Opportunities: The shortage of female leaders provides opportunities for women to improve team performance, contribute fresh perspectives, and advance their careers and have room for growth. Feeling of Achievement: One of the best feelings is being able to build something from the ground up. Working in construction allows women to receive this feeling of achievement and develop a passion for building — a passion that shouldn’t be limited to just men and Practical Skills: Construction skills like team building, managing a complex project, and working with technology and tools can be applied to other sectors and careers as well.
Changing Company Standards, female leaders play a crucial role in eliminating the challenges other women face in construction. They participate in female recruitment efforts, promote retainment and advancement of women, and push for better benefits. Mentoring Other Women: Female leaders can also serve as a valuable resource for their peers, inspiring their careers and encouraging them to advance in their careers.
As the construction industry continues to grapple with challenges like productivity and labour, there is a growing space for women to enter the field. It’s not just a matter of equal representation — female leaders are making a big impact on the industry as well and companies are taking notice.

What kind of leadership opportunities are there for women in your industry?

If you are willing to do great work, then you can be assured of going far. You should always aim to get a step higher in your career as you add more years at your workplace. Climbing the corporate ladder within any company is considered one of the most secure and efficient ways to climb the career ladder. Communication is essential when it comes to climbing the career ladder. When you decide that you will be honest with your boss, then you should do the necessary. Enhance your communication skills to ensure your employer gets what you are saying clearly. True leaders are always yearning to get more information and learn new things every day.
First, you need to accept that you don’t know everything and be willing to learn from others. You can achieve greater impacts in your career and learn more when you stop limiting yourself to a given current situation and set your sights high. This will help expand your skills and make you prepared when new opportunities come knocking on your door.
Opportunities rarely come in a person’s life and when they do, it’s advisable to take them immediately. Yes, opportunities may come knocking on your door, but they will not last forever. To grow within the company, you have to position yourself strategically and where you will get noticed easily. Jump into new things and gain experience whenever you get the opportunity.

Are there many women sitting within your team?

Companies with female leaders on their executive teams produce more value and profitability. Creating diversity in the workplace is more than hiring one or two women and saying you care. When hiring your first female employee to an all-male team, it is important to bridge the gap yourself by ensuring you are incorporating diversity into the culture, the workforce, the recruiting methods, and day-to-day work. In a recent global study, when women are left to fend on their own to generate change, only 30 per cent progress results. However, when men participate in gender diversity, businesses show 96 per cent progress.
To make sure that male employees are involved with diversity-wide initiatives, men should actively participate. Making sure male employees can communicate their thoughts and ideas openly, as well as not making any assumptions about roles or tasks a woman wants to assume helps to ensure work opportunities are seen through a gender-blind lens.
Involve the CEO, founder or leader of Human Resources in the recruiting. This leader is instrumental in interviewing not only for the right hard skills but also for the right soft skills. The first female hire must fit into the culture and message of the company. The leader should interview the female candidate and introduce the candidate to the team, watching for interpersonal and cultural fit. Getting feedback from the team will be beneficial, but make sure it’s constructive.
Diverse hiring should stop with the top down. Leadership should set the cultural tone and hire for fit—not to attain a statistic. Diversity doesn’t stop at hiring either. Leadership and employees should support each other’s ideas and thoughts, work schedules, and projects daily to create a prosperous organisation.

As a woman leading a public-listed renowned French construction company in Asia, how did you get the men-folk to show respect to you?

We seek respect in our professional and personal lives no matter one’s designation or where one works it may be in any field. Gaining the respect of your colleagues is crucial to professional success. There is no one-size-fits-all technique. Show co-workers your passion for company goals and encourage others to do the same. Show humility, be willing to admit your flaws, but do not focus on them. You should have some self-depreciation, but it should be paired with self-confidence. People generally will not respect a leader who appears insecure and continuously mentions their shortcomings. Realize that co-workers each have their levels of learning and adapt to new tasks and job assignments accordingly. Praise others as they master each step of their new assignments. Having patience with others will demonstrate you have confidence in co-workers and believe they can expand their knowledge and skills. People are most likely to respect those who treat them well and will not fear approaching them with problems or questions. Talk Less, Listen to More, you may think that the person with the most respect is the one standing at the head of the conference table giving the presentation, but that’s not always the case. If you feel as if you always need to talk, you’re not likely the most respected person in the room. People gain respect by actually listening to the ideas of others. This doesn’t mean that you can’t share your ideas, but it does mean that you need to pay attention to what others are saying. Apologize and Admit Mistake; No one is perfect, you will make mistakes. I have personally made mistakes, but we learn from these mistakes. I believe if you want respect, you need to admit your mistakes. Practice this statement, “I’m sorry. What can I do to fix it?” The last part is critical in many situations—otherwise, the apology is just an empty statement. Take Criticism and Learn from It, having people respect you isn’t dependent on people thinking that you’re right all of the time. It’s about people trusting you and appreciating what you have to say. You need to listen to what people have to say about you.

How do you keep up with the latest on all things in your industry?

Keeping up with the latest market trends is crucial for having the cutting edge within the industry, competitors, and even customers. This allows you to help predict what will happen within the industry before it does, allowing you to act accordingly before the event. Not only does this prevent you from being blindsided by unforeseen changes, it also prevents the changes from affecting your business too severely.
The construction industry is always developing and expanding, and if you’re feeling like your skills are starting to lag or that there are ways you could improve your construction business, one of the best ways to stay up-to-date with the latest trends is to enrol onto some relevant courses. The courses don’t necessarily have to be related to new technology, there are a huge variety of courses you could take that could be beneficial, such as Management courses, IT lessons, HGV/Plant driving lessons, Health and safety training and Marketing courses.
Attending conferences, industry events and training sessions will put you in touch with suppliers, customers and fellow tradesmen. Not only will this allow you to learn more about your field and related industries, it will also allow you to gain insight into your competitors and the wider market.

In Australia, there are a lot of women who work in the construction industry. They are known as lollipop ladies, and earn a very handsome salary for operating cranes etc. This is very unlike in Asia where all these jobs are usually done by foreigners. Do you think that Malaysia and Singapore should start offering lucrative salaries in such positions to entice more women into the industry?

I applaud these women who take up work in the construction industry no matter where they are located. With such a small percentage of females working within the construction industry, changing the perception of building and construction as a male-only career will require genuine commitment from every area of the industry. However, there are signs that attitudes towards women in the industry are beginning to change. Regular educational pieces produced in conjunction with careers advisers, schools and parents would go some way to helping challenge the general perception of the construction industry as a male-only sector, and companies should utilise their communicational channels to help promote gender equality within the industry. Encouraging women to enter the construction industry is only the first step in redressing the balance, arguably the biggest challenge of all is keeping women in construction. Presumptions are often made about the challenges women working in the construction industry face, unsuitable toilet facilities and ill-fitting workwear, and although these are genuine concerns that many women working in construction have, the reality is more complex. The construction industry offers an enormous variety of different jobs in different places, and construction is arguably the most diverse of all sectors in terms of career paths. From marketing and PR to legal and finance, the construction industry offers an abundance of opportunity and diversity. It doesn’t matter if you’re technically minded, good with numbers or creative; there will be a role for you within the industry. Having something – or someone – to aspire is often all that’s needed to inspire change and initiate action, and construction companies need to capitalise on this and get better at celebrating and drawing attention to the achievements of women who are doing exciting things within the industry. And it doesn’t even have to be people from outside of the business – it can be key influencers from within the organisation itself who have progressed to positions of seniority or who have achieved success in some form or another. Businesses need to be more vocal about highlighting the work of existing female employees within their organisations, so that other women – both inside and outside of that business – are made aware of the kind of opportunities that are on offer. By harnessing the power of social media and providing coverage through news articles, influencer marketing and internal news bulletins, businesses have a real opportunity to shine the light on the best in the industry.

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