interview: helen mason at morgan sindall group.

We recently spoke with the Helen Mason, General Counsel at Morgan Sindall to discuss her views on women in the construction industry.

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transcript.

[Randstad] Hi Helen, could you give us a quick overview of your career in the construction industry?

[Helen Mason] "Well I’ve worked in the construction industry for 15 years – always within the risk, compliance and legal workspace– and have held the position of General Counsel for Morgan Sindall Group plc for the past seven months."

[R] And was it a conscious decision for you to choose and stay in the construction industry?

[HM] "Yes it was a conscious decision. The construction industry offers the ‘best bits’ of law in my opinion! It’s varied and exciting, and you see the tangible end result of your contribution to the built environment. The buildings and structures we help to develop will be here long after we are gone, and it’s good to know that you have contributed to something so permanent. It’s a lasting legacy."

[R] It sounds like you’re really invested in your industry which is great to hear. We’re particularly interested in discussing the presence of women in your company and discussing your thoughts on our recent women in construction survey; we found that women are expected to make up a quarter (26%) of the UK’s construction workforce by 2020. Does this surprise you?

[HM] "No not really. We’ve got a fairly equal split in our Senior Team between men and women; although in the business we do see trends in the roles women typically fill, for example support roles and HR.

"It would be great to see more female engineers and quantity surveyors, although we do still have very good representation of this at Morgan Sindall."

[R] Our results also show that women will increasingly fill senior construction roles. Are there women, besides yourself, in your company’s senior management team?

[HM] "Yes, it’s about 50:50, however we do have a relatively small senior management team – there are six of us."

[R] OK great. Would you be surprised to learn that many other construction companies have a significantly smaller representation of women in their senior management team, and across the board?

[HM] "I’m not really surprised - I do think Morgan Sindall is a very forward thinking and unique construction and regeneration company, irrespective of gender representation even."

[R] What do you think needs to be done to attract more women to the construction industry?

[HM] "I think culture is key; and the leadership style and character of the people running a business affect the people who’re attracted to it.

"Our CEO has a clear vision of the kind of company he wants Morgan Sindall to be; it’s a very collaborative and all-encompassing culture; there’s simply no place for misogyny.

"I think some of the more traditional construction companies don’t see anything wrong with the way they operate so it may take a little longer for some to see the benefit of this kind of cultural shift.  ‘Tone from the top’ is key."

"the key driver for women working in engineering is the nature of the project and the intellectual challenge."

[R] Do you think predicted pay rises of 6% per year between 2005 and 2015 for women in construction will attract more women to the industry?

[HM] "I think that there’s a generational difference in what we look for in a job and / or sector. But I know from speaking with some of our ‘Gen Y’ female engineers, they don’t see gender as a barrier and they don’t ‘chase the money’.  The key driver for them is the nature of the project and the intellectual challenge. Almost everyone in our engineering division wants to be associated with Crossrail at the moment; having a project as huge and prestigious as that on your CV– well, you can’t put a price on that!"

[R] Do you feel that there are good opportunities for promotion and progression in your company? And are the opportunities equally available to men and women?

[HM] "Yes!  It takes a certain type of person to take on a senior management role though, and childcare is inevitably an issue since senior roles require a lot of travel and take up a lot of time.   I think it comes down to personal choice for the candidate."

[R] Our research suggests that employers are increasingly supportive of women in the industry, but that cultural issues and a lack of workplace flexibility are the greatest barriers for women considering a move to construction.

[HM] "I believe that women have more opportunities and flexibility in the workplace than ever before. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote; “lean in”. It’s time for women to just get out and do it! Get stuck in!

"If you’re good at what you do, you will be noticed and you will be promoted."

[R] Thank you Helen. So on one final note, what would your advice be to women considering a career in construction?

[HM] "Do it. The industry is fast paced, exciting and poses different challenges every day. The greatest reward is your success."

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