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Tackling gender diversity in the construction industry

6 December 2018

The article at a glance

A global shortage of construction professionals could be met by increasing the number of women in the industry, according to research from …

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A global shortage of construction professionals could be met by increasing the number of women in the industry, according to research from Cambridge Judge Business School.

Cristina Savian (EMBA 2016)
Cristina Savian (EMBA 2016)

Cristina Savian (EMBA 2016) – Managing Director of technology construction consultancy BE-WISE – determined that reversing the poor gender parity in the construction workforce would enable the sector to better meet the increasing demand for housing and infrastructure. Her student research, developed as an Individual Project on the Cambridge Executive MBA programme, is co-sponsored by Professor Sucheta Nadkarni of the School’s Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre.

A business case for gender parity in construction

“The global construction sector has suffered from a lack of innovation and has a poor history of gender parity,” explains Cristina. “The gap in gender equality poses a threat to social and economic development, particularly in the UK.”

With over 20 years’ experience in construction, Cristina understands how the sector can utilise its workforce to better respond to challenges such as population growth.

“Our research recognised that women could fill the global skills shortage the sector is facing. In the UK alone, more than one million construction workers are required by 2020 to keep up with demand , but only 12 per cent of the construction workforce is female. There is a strong business case to be made by introducing and developing the careers of women in this sector, contributing to greater economic growth and productivity.”

Developing an inclusivity framework for construction firms

Cristina founded BE-WISE earlier this year to provide consulting services to technology companies in the construction sector. “My mission is to use technology as an enabler of innovation, emphasising the balance between people, technology and processes to increase productivity and performance.”
Cristina built a four-step integrated approach that construction companies can use to improve gender parity:

EMBA 2016 Cristina Savian's four-step integrated approach to tacking gender diverstiy in the construction industry.
EMBA 2016 Cristina Savian’s four-step integrated approach to tacking gender diverstiy in the construction industry.
  1. Engagement: Encourage employees to embrace organisational values of gender parity and inclusiveness. A gender parity initiative can be supported through mentorship, coaching and support groups, which enable employees to develop and progress within their organisation.
  2. Leading by championing: The head of an organisation needs to lead by example and not be afraid of taking a strong position on inclusivity. This includes actively funding initiatives to encourage, for example, gender parity as they would other measures deemed integral to their organisational culture.
  3. Development of a new mindset: Instead of training employees on how to behave, encourage a progressive mind-set that enables employees to appreciate the benefits of a more diverse and inclusive environment.
  4. Stakeholder engagement: Develop a 360-degree strategy that includes third parties such as suppliers, business partners and consultants in the conversation. Maximising the interest of all stakeholders on issues of inclusivity will add long-term value to products, employee satisfaction and perceptions of the wider industry. Introducing contractual clauses on inclusivity with business partners, for example, could position gender parity as an integral part of doing business in the sector.

Cristina is now on a mission to enable change by presenting her methodology at leading construction conferences across Europe. Her research is due to be published as white paper early next year by the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre.

Pursuing entrepreneurship with an Executive MBA

Cristina initially joined the EMBA programme at CJBS to help her navigate the corporate world, before realising her hidden entrepreneurial ambitions.

“This month, I celebrated twenty years working in civil engineering and technology. Prior to studying at Cambridge, I’d gained a lot of industry experience across EMEA and America, culminating in technical and commercial lead roles for a leading technology company. Despite this, it was challenging to try and move up the corporate ladder in this male-dominated industry.

“I wanted to do an MBA to give me an ‘edge’ and land a top executive job and overcome the glass ceiling in my sector. However, the Cambridge experience instead gave me the confidence I needed to get over my imposter syndrome, leave my corporate career and start my own business.”

Cristina credits the supportive network of EMBA participants in helping her realise her suitability for entrepreneurship.

“Working alongside a very talented group of people on the EMBA helped me realise that I could pursue a path I hadn’t previously considered. They helped me appreciate my unique strengths, accept my weaknesses and that it is worth taking the risk of starting my own company, because I knew that they would support my ambitions, even after we graduated from Cambridge.

“Being part of one of the world’s leading academic institutions made me accept a much greater purpose and contribute positively to society in the best way I can. I want to help innovate one of our most important industries and help create the only future that is worth building: a future for everyone”.