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women in construction

Oliver Smith

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2020…

5 inspirational women in construction

From electricians to architects, to civil and structural engineers and designers, there are many exciting jobs within the construction sector.

Yet while the industry employs around 3 million people in the UK, it has the worst gender balance of any, with the UK lagging behind the rest of Europe. Less than 1% of its 800,000 construction and building trades workers are women, and even when you add architects, planners and surveyors it only rises to 18%.

This International Women’s Day calls for everyone to actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions and celebrate women's achievements. That’s why we want to share the success stories of five inspirational women in the industry who are excelling in a male-dominated field.

By sharing their stories of how they got to the top, they are inspiring others to look at engineering and architecture as trades for women. So who are they and how have achieved success?

Zaha Hadid, Architect

Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid was known for her radical deconstructivist designs. She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004 and she received the UK's most prestigious architectural award, the Stirling Prize, in 2010 and 2011.

She began her college studies at the American University in Beirut in the field of mathematics before moving to London in 1972 to study architecture at the Architectural Association and upon graduation in 1977, she joined the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). She also taught at the Architectural Association (AA) with OMA collaborators Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis.

She began her own practice in London in 1980 and won the prestigious competition for the Hong Kong Peak Club, a leisure and recreational center in 1983.

Her major works include the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics, Michigan State University's Broad Art Museum in the US, the MAXXI Museum in Rome, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, and the Beijing Daxing International Airport in China. Some of her awards have been presented posthumously, including the statuette for the 2017 Brit Awards.

Several of her buildings were still under construction at the time of her death, including the Daxing airport and the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, a venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Roma Agrawal MBE, Structural Engineer and Associate Director at AECOM

Roma Agrawal gained her BA in Physics from the University of Oxford, and her MSc in Structural Engineering from Imperial College London. She spent 6 of her 10 years at WSP Global as a senior structural engineer on The Shard, the tallest tower in Western Europe where she designed the foundations and the “spire” of the building.

The Shard was opened to the public in February 2013 and Agrawal was the only woman featured in Channel 4's The Tallest Tower documentary about the building. Her work earned Agrawal the Diamond Award for Engineering Excellence from the Association for Consultancy and Engineering in 2014.

Agrawal won The Rooke Award for the public promotion of engineering three years later - one of the Royal Academy of Engineering's most prestigious gongs. She has appeared frequently in the media, on documentaries and online blogs and she was also featured in M&S’s ‘Leading Ladies’ 2014 campaign and described as a ‘Top Tweeter’ by the Guardian. In 2018 she was awarded an MBE.

Kelly Vincent, Electrician and Founder of Kelly Electrics

Kelly Vincent left school at 18 and “fell into” an administrative role for the NHS, where she worked for 10 years. Fascinated by her father’s job as a Building Contractor and wanting to do something practical, Vincent decided to look for potential job opportunities in the construction industry.

After gaining her City & Guilds electrical qualifications, she trained alongside senior electricians at a company near where she lived and quickly set up her own business, Kelly Electrics.

Her story is proof that it’s never too late to challenge yourself and as a female electrician, she has been recognised for her contribution to the sector. In 2014, Vincent was a finalist at both the Women in Construction Awards and Britain’s Top Tradesperson Awards, held at Wembley Stadium.

She continues to inspire other women to enter the sector by employing fellow female electricians.

Roni Savage, Environmental Engineer and Managing Director of Jomas Associates

Roni Savage launched her construction company, Jomas Associates, in 2009. The Environmental Engineer gained her BEng in Engineering Geology and Geotechnics at the University of Portsmouth and her MSc in Environmental Management at the University of Exeter. Savage also took part in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Programme at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and in 2018 celebrated her business’ £2m turnover.

Before she set up her own company, Savage worked for engineering consultancies and was involved in many projects across the UK, including the widening of roads including the A406 and M25. Now she works with land developers, assessing ground conditions and remediating land contamination, allowing reclamation of brownfield or derelict land.

Savage is passionate about diversity and inclusion, encouraging others to explore construction jobs for women. In addition, she is a multi-award winner and has been named Black British Businessperson of the Year, the Precious Awards Entrepreneur of the Year and awarded the Best Business Women in STEM Award.

Monika Slowikowska, Director of Golden Houses Developments

Polish-born Monika Slowikowska is a trailblazer in the field of construction. At 18 she moved to the UK with very poor English to study Marketing at the University of West London and the next 7 years were spent in advertising, mainly with McCann (formerly McCann Erickson), where she was the youngest Account Manager Worldwide.

But as home building was a long-held dream of hers, she switched careers and moved to construction. Slowikowska contributed to the development of London’s Park Plaza hotels, both Victoria and Riverbank. Following 8 years of working in the sector, Slowikowska’s brother moved to the UK after selling his construction business in Poland.

He set up again in the UK and she spent 5 years as Managing Director of his company.

In May 2012, Slowikowska launched Noble Houses Developments on her own, which was later renamed Golden Houses Developments.

Specialising in high-end residential projects of a minimum construction value of £2m, the business has completed over 40 projects and employs over 180 staff. Golden Houses Developments is growing rapidly and its turnover was six times higher in its fourth year than in its first.

Slowikowska has won numerous awards including Best Woman Contractor for 2018 at the European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards and the Women in Construction Award for 2017 at the London Construction Awards.

Happy International Women's Day 2020!

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women in construction

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