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Women in Construction
- Monday April 25, 2022
Women in Construction was the topic for the East Midland branch’s first virtual event of 2022. Joined by over 60 IHE members and students from Lincoln College, the talk was led for the IHE by Kyra Nettle, local highways manager at Lincolnshire County Council, who introduced guest speakers Ellie Baker, senior project leader; Becky Melhuish, growth manager (both also from Lincolnshire), and Bobbie Perks, associate director, WSP, who gave their differing perspectives and experiences as women in the highways and construction sector.
Ellie Baker joined Lincolnshire as a trainee in the traffic management team aged 18, having seen an advert in the local paper. Ellie’s talk focused on her varied career and experiences, which has seen her work in traffic management, highways maintenance, street works, events management and project management, achieving a variety of qualifications along the way including IEng and her MBA.
She discussed her time working in events management, which gave an opportunity to work with a variety of organisations and help make events on the highway with thousands of attendees a success. She has always felt supported by colleagues throughout the years, even in a male-dominated environment – only 11% of the construction workforce in the UK are women.
Bobbie Perks’ journey into the construction industry was very different, having first studied zoology at university and becoming a giraffe keeper at Chester Zoo. Deciding it wasn’t for her, Bobbie joined a local highway authority while thinking about what the future held.
This role gave her a taste of project management, tenders, procurement and writing highway contracts, which she relished.
Bobbie, who has since worked for highway contractors including Balfour Beatty and WSP, discussed the challenges of delivering a quality highway service and always striving to make improvements. In 2021, she was shortlisted for the European Women in Construction Awards, showing women can make a mark in the industry, regardless of whether they are from a non-civils background.
Her differing roles have given her a variety of experiences and challenges that she has enjoyed, especially managing, and developing people.
The final speaker, Becky Melhuish, began her career as a business administration apprentice in highways and has since enjoyed roles in highway maintenance and network management, before embarking on a career in development management – a role which she is passionate about.
Becky talked about the functions of her team, which represents the highway and lead local flood authority on planning matters. On top of that she discussed the importance of ‘place making’ through supporting new developments to be a great place for people to live, work and take leisure time.
Becky’s role takes her out of her comfort zone. She enjoys leading a team and sharing ideas as well as making a difference to the future of the highway network. She challenged the attendees to think about any bad habits they have and what they can do to break those and improve.
The need to share the wide variety of roles available to women in construction was discussed and the talk ended with a Q&A session.
Following the event, Ms Perks said: ‘It was fantastic to be asked to speak at the East Midlands IHE event with colleagues from Lincolnshire. We all wanted to share our positive experiences working in the industry and our wide-ranging career paths and opportunity to support young women and people coming into highways and construction. We need to break down the traditional stereotypes of what roles are available to encourage different backgrounds, interests and experiences to join a fantastic industry.’
Carly Jeffrey, IHE member and senior highways officer at Lincolnshire, said: ‘The speakers were really informative and, as a woman in construction myself, it was interesting to hear their differing backgrounds and the opportunities they have had, along with the advice they provided which will be useful for my career.’
Kyra Nettle, who led the talk for the IHE East Midland’s branch, added: ‘It was a pleasure to be involved with this presentation, and what a great opportunity it was to show the different routes into a construction career and how varied the work is that you can choose to get involved in. ‘It was clear from Ellie, Bobbie and Becky’s presentations that women are coming into their own in a working world which values their contribution and perspective.’
You can watch the Women In Construction talk via the IHE’s CPD hub.