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Interview: Overcoming gender stereotypes in the construction industry

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Recently, I have met Cristina Savian, a management professional with vast experience in engineering and business development. Her research is focused in the subject of gender sterotypes in the construction industry and the implementation of strategies that could create a gender balanced workforce within the industry.

I have asked Cristina to explain how we can overcome gender streotypes in order to change the face of construction, what steps are necessary to empower women in the industry and how we can engage men in the conversation.


Cristina Savian interview by breakwithanarchitect
Image source: Cristina Savian


The construction sector is a male-oriented industry and women are really low represented. What are the main characteristics that contribute to this phenomenon?

Cristina Savian:

The construction industry is now witnessing extraordinary growth in global demand as well as exceptionally low-profit margins; thus, the opportunity has arisen to access an invaluable but under-utilised pool of talent: women. In the UK alone, more than one million extra workers are needed by 2020 to keep up with the country’s growth. This severe skills shortage could be fulfilled by women, who currently only make up 12% of the construction workforce.

Globally on average less the 10% of construction workforce is female. The main reasons on why female participation has historically been very low have been identified as the biased image of the industry, a lack of work-life balance, and the male-dominated environment.


How the construction sector can overcome the gender stereotypes and change the face of construction?

Cristina Savian:

Unfortunately, despite extensive research being carried out by both academics and industry practitioners on addressing the issues for low female participation, little has changed over the years, using my own research and experience I developed a four-step action plan for companies seeking to implement strategies to create a gender balanced workforce within the construction industry.

The proposed plan is composed of four elements:

Engagement – which calls for the engagement of all parties involved and highlights the importance of a bottom-up as well as top-down approach;

Leading by championing – whereby everyone from the CEO who sets the vision is required to be humble and lead by example;

Stakeholder approach – which calls for the extension of the conversation to business partners, the supply chain and contractors to make inclusion part of the way business is conducted;

The need to develop a new mind-set, a new set of skills which enables people to deliver their best by feeling comfortable with who they are.

The entire research is due to be published by the University of Cambridge-Judge Business School, Wo+Men Leadership Centre and is co-authored by Prof. Sucheta Nadkarni


What is the best advice that you would give to young women entering the industry?

Cristina Savian:

In my 20 year career in civil engineering and technology, I have been often felt out of place, not only because I was the only woman around but often because I was getting asked: Why do you work in civil engineering? Too often I was told I did not belong, because of the way I look, because of my funny accent and most of all because, I was often the only person in the room who had a different line of thought. This is what I learnt, do not allow anyone to tell you if you belong or not to this industry, you know if you are already.

When you think you have a different vision and different point of view do not fall behind the group think, just speak up and simply state that based on your knowledge and experience you would do thing differently.

The best outcome always comes out of a good fight, so not be afraid to start one, the overall outcome will be better.


How we can engage men in the conversation about gender equality in the construction sector?

Cristina Savian:

The few women in the industry know what issues we have to face every day in this industry. What I have now understood is that, whereas we often have a moan and talk and complain to each other, we do not actually share the issues that we have to deal with every day; such as pushing us in a corner, not feeling considered, been overlooked for promotions, balancing family commitments with career , and yes a lot of sexual harassment and bullyism too.

I was wrong not to speak up, not to sit down with all the people I worked with ever single day and simply tell them how I felt, and that I though I was treated unfairly. I am sure out of all of them, at least few could have empathised with me.

I could have found allies, yes because even within men’s clubs there are those who gets excluded too, or some of them may realise that that could help you and become your sponsors.

If we want to increase the number of women in the industry and make the industry more welcoming to them, women need sponsors, not mentors that tell them to behave like a men.

We need to learn to appreciate each other’s natural gift whatever that may be. The construction industry is for everyone, everyone is the end user of our built environment, therefore we are all valuable to this world and needs industry needs and deserves everyone’s input.


Are there any women's groups in the construction industry that women can join for support?

Cristina Savian:

Over 7 years ago I started feeling too lonely, I realised that I felt the need to share with other women my daily work life and ask for advice. I started joining a lot of “Women’s group” from Women in BIM, National Association of Women in Construction and Global Women in Tech Every country has local and national organisations who supports women’s journey in various ways. And if you do not find one locally, just join one of the global women’s network. I wished I joined them earlier. I found the most amazing supporting and talented strong women I have ever met in my life. I can ensure that it is very valuable sharing experiences, getting mentors and simply expand your network. Do dot be shy!

Cristina Savian is CEO and Founder of BE-WISE

#Interview by Breakwithanarchitect

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