It’s all about diversity at the top. That was the main takeaway from talking to the nominees for this year’s Building Female Leadership Award. All the contenders said it was important for the proportion of women represented at the senior level in the construction sector to increase. But more than that, they said it was integral that leaders were diverse in other ways, whether by age, gender or cultural background.
The award – sponsored by Aecom – recognises female leaders from across the sector – those who are championing the representation of women in a male-dominated industry. The award also highlights positive role models who can enhance the sector’s appeal to other women – and the six nominees on this year’s shortlist are all ensuring women have a voice in the construction sector.
This year’s nominees all felt that having visible female leaders was key to recruiting more women into the industry – an important step both in improving diversity across the sector and in tackling the ever-worsening skills crisis.
One nominee summed this up by saying: “Construction has an image problem. People imagine it’s all men working on sites, so it’s important for us as senior female leaders to be visible. If people see someone they can associate with at the top, they can see that there’s also a path for them.”
Kate Ives, Wates Residential
“Leadership is about giving yourself to other people. It’s about sharing your knowledge, your skills and your care”
Development director Ives is responsible for growing the firm’s investment in new developments, building on Wates Residential’s portfolio of partnership housing and joint ventures with local authorities and housing associations. She also works across new and existing projects to ensure they are delivered to Wates’ sustainable investment criteria. In 2018, Ives secured one of the Wates Group’s biggest ever contracts: a £1bn joint venture with Havering council that will provide 5,000 homes over the next 12 to 15 years.
“What’s really great about that scheme is the depth of social value,” she says. “It’s an example of how social value is a factor of increasing importance when it comes to procurement, which is great for us as it’s at the heart of what we do.”
She is a founding member of Women in Wates, an informal network in which female employees share experiences, and has led International Women’s Day events for the company. “Diversity creates better decision-making,” she says.
She says: “Leadership is about giving yourself to other people. It’s about sharing your knowledge, your skills and your care.” Ives says leaders do not need make grand speeches – they need to take time to invest in their people.
Katrina Kostic Samen, KKS
The current leadership team of KKS, which Kostic Samen founded in 2004, is one of London’s all-female-led interior architectural practice. She set up her own company after spending 19 years at Gensler, where she was not only instrumental in setting up the firm’s London office but was also the company’s first female partner in the capital. KKS has since been bought out by Savills.
Kostic Samen was president of the British Council for Offices (BCO) 2018/19 – the first designer to hold this role and only the third woman in the post in 29 years. She has launched an initiative to increase female membership at the BCO from 4% to 20% and pushed to ensure its subcommittees have 20% female representation. She has also set up a BCO mentorship scheme for those in the early stages of their careers, whereby senior people in the industry coach younger colleagues. The scheme was launched in London, with 20 industry professionals meeting 50 BCO NextGen members in a “speed-dating’”style format to provide tips and guidance.
Clare Ashmore, a main board director at fit-out firm Parkeray, says: “Kostic Samen leads from behind with her nurturing approach and equally strongly from the front, flying the flag for women in our industry across all perceived diversities.”
Alex Lawrence, Ramboll
“Female and more diverse leaders show that construction is an accepting industry, and that’s what we need to do to attract the best young talent into the sector”
As buildings director, Lawrence is responsible for managing the successful delivery of work on large and complex projects including Crossrail and large real estate buildings on the Paddington Central campus.
Ramboll director Steve Forder says: “Alex became involved in our Crossrail Paddington station project during an incredibly intense period on the project. Her natural, empowering leadership, calm influence and people skills were crucial in raising the whole team’s motivation.” Lawrence is also the head of talent and inclusion and has devised and implemented Ramboll’s diversity and inclusion strategy. This strategy centres on three core areas: a collaborative culture that nurtures inclusivity; attracting and developing diverse talent; and advancing inclusive design to maximise social value.
Lawrence says that it is imperative that construction recruitment changes to allow the industry to better reflect the wider public. “We design for society but at the moment our design teams don’t reflect that,” she says. “Female and more diverse leaders show that construction is an accepting industry, and that’s what we need to do to attract the best young talent into the sector.”
Holly Lewis, We Made That
Lewis, who co-founded architecture and urbanism practice We Made That in 2006, leads an 18-strong team in business growth and securing new work. For Lewis, one of the most important aspects of leading the practice is being open to the thoughts and feelings of staff.
“It’s about supporting and mentoring others to become leaders themselves.”
She has led on a commercial and industrial masterplan in Thamesmead, east London, for Peabody and was instrumental in We Made That joining the architectural team for the HS2 station at London’s Euston. As a Mayor’s Design Advocate for the Greater London Authority, she has managed the Industrial Intensification and Co-location Study, which was designed to inform new policies in the London Plan. Lewis says it is important to show it is acceptable to be both a devoted architect and a business entrepreneur early in the architectural education process. “We need to teach that it’s OK to say: ‘Yes, I want to run my own business but also be committed to the absolute best design outcomes’. Those things aren’t in conflict.”
Anne-Marie Nicholson, PRP
As a senior partner at architect PRP, Nicholson oversees the 280-strong practice and leads the Surrey studio. She has authored a number of recognised design guides on designing for older people, most notably Homes for the Third Age, which spearheaded a successful drive to bring good design to the later-living sector.
“You can see the tangible difference you are making to people’s lives,” says Nicholson. “I’ve been back to projects and had people thank me for changing their lives and their parents’ lives – that is incredible.”
She was appointed as one of three senior partners at PRP in 2015 (there are now four). Nicholson and her co-senior partners rejected the role of chair to jointly appoint themselves as three equal leaders instead.
“To me, leadership is all about being confident in what you know and making sure you are honest about what you don’t know. It’s about putting every individual in a position that allows them to shine.” Nicholson’s team is the largest group of architects specialising in the later-living sector in Europe, and 70% of staff in the team are women.
Shevaughn Rieck, Farrells
“It’s not about you, it’s about empowering others to be able to progress”
Rieck started at Farrells 10 years ago as an architectural assistant. She was promoted to partner within four years of becoming a qualified architect and with less than 10 years’ professional experience.
“Being made a partner was a real personal highlight. It’s a big change because overnight your mindset needs to go from employee to employer, but it has been wonderful,” she says. “It’s not about you, it’s about empowering others to be able to progress.”
She is the project lead and contract administrator on the Chelsea Waterfront scheme in west London. “I’m really proud of what the team has achieved on that project. I have been leading on it since 2012 and we have just completed it, so that’s been a real highlight,” she says.
Rieck has led the audit of all Farrells projects in terms of fire safety post-Grenfell, making recommendations to clients on how to minimise risk. She also developed the practice’s first five-year business plan and the models for monitoring performance. The plan is aimed at restabilising the cost base and rebalancing profit margins while managing succession and controlled growth of 10% on turnover in the period.
“The one thing I really want to get out there is that it’s such a fantastic industry. The way to do that, I believe, is through grass roots education – we all need to be out there talking about how good a career in construction can be,” she says.