INWED 2022: The Reality of Opportunity

INWED 2022 Blog header

For International Women in Engineering Day 2022 (INWED), we interviewed Joanna Constandis, Michael J Lonsdale’s Senior Environmental and Sustainability Manager, to share some of her experiences in joining and succeeding in her career in construction. The article highlights the world of opportunity construction has for women, along with the realities of the industry.

Joanna is responsible for developing and delivering company Net Zero Carbon goals, overseeing MJL environmental aspects and impacts and driving projects to meet their environmental targets.

As of June 2021 figures show that only 16.5% of engineers are women.

INWED gives women engineers around the world a profile when they are still hugely under-represented in their professions.

So join us with celebrations this year and find out how you can get involved

What first attracted you to the construction industry?

I appreciate all the design considerations that make spaces unique, where the choices made can change the whole atmosphere of a space. I also had the impression that there was more variety in construction, working on different projects and teams; it appeared very hands-on.
Where it all began: Joanna first joined on a 12-week level 1 course, providing her with a feel for different trades.

Did the industry meet your first impressions?

Naturally, I have built up more of an awareness of the profound impact that design considerations have on the environment, so my interest grew into wanting to make a positive difference in this area. That is another amazing aspect of the construction industry. It’s made up of such broad roles that it allows exploring where your skills and interests fit in. There are opportunities to learn whilst working, and you can form your direction.

I was right about the variety in construction. It’s something I still value, with people in roles I didn’t think about at first. Different departments, clients and supply chains work towards a range of environmental criteria from various projects. It’s also really rewarding to see finished projects knowing that you have contributed to them. For anyone new, I’d say there are a lot more benefits than I knew about, like the opportunities for career progression and comparatively higher salary.

Do you think there is some stigma around construction being a male-dominated field?

Yes, I think there’s a stigma discouraging women from aiming to work in construction. Furthermore, there is the perception that are no appropriate roles for women in the construction industry, particularly in trade work. This opinion extends beyond the industry, with families and friends who may discourage women from exploring this route.

My largest barrier to entering the industry was trying to shut out these external influences and tune in to what I wanted. It is also paramount to create awareness of unconscious biases, with common expressions like “throw like a girl” that demean female competence. It influences how women are initially perceived and treated. Recognising this and calling it out can help overcome unconscious biases and make the workplace more accommodating.

Since I started, I have noticed more familiarity with women in the industry, and hope this momentum continues. On our projects, there are female electricians, quantity surveyors and CAD specialists to name just a few. I’m immensely grateful for MJL taking a chance on me when I was starting – I was a novice with an interest in buildings. My starting role was an opportunity to see how construction projects function from the inside, a tour to help me figure out what area I wanted to be a part of and a foot in the door of an impressive company.

Moving on up: Joanna's first environmental initiative implemented on her first project - returning pallets to suppliers, keeping them out of the waste stream.
Moving on up: Joanna's first environmental initiative implemented on her first project - returning pallets to suppliers, keeping them out of the waste stream. INWED

INWED is now in it’s 9th year.

National Women in Engineering Day was launched for the first time in the UK on 23 June 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate its 95th anniversary.

In 2017, National Women in Engineering Day became international for the first time due to the interest and enthusiasm developed by the international audience and participants in the previous years. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was born to enable the celebration of women in engineering to become global.

What makes you think there is a stigma about women in the industry?

During my first weeks at MJL, no one knew what to do with me. This had its advantages as I could set my job description based on company and client environmental needs. However, finding this career path so late, I also felt I constantly needed to work harder and longer, as if I needed to learn it today and be great at it yesterday. I felt I needed to prove myself and align my presence with a reason other than ticking a box. More than this, I felt that I was constantly representing women. If I act a certain way, make mistakes, have personal issues or reach my workload limit, I didn’t want anyone to associate the reason with being a woman. I felt pressure to be perfect – like I could handle anything so that the people around me would associate women with quality and high performance.
Joanna Constandis with the Embodied Carbon Award at the CIBSE Building Performance Awards 2022.
Joanna Constandis with the Embodied Carbon Award at the CIBSE Building Performance Awards 2022.

Why should more women join the industry?

Women should join the industry if they have an interest in the industry or an interest in learning the skills that are needed. There are lots of areas within construction where your skills and interests can be utilised such as design and engineering, CAD modelling, quantity surveying or working with our trade work subcontractors etc. I am happy to say that through the years MJL has seen my capabilities and the attributes I bring as a person, and I am valued in the work I complete. I have been able to exceed my expectations in my contributions and achievements, so I am glad I decided to aim for a career in construction.

Businesses set diversity and inclusion goals because the different perspectives can lead to innovation, accelerate adaptation and growth, increase corporate profits and generally increase all our standards of living. There is still some way to go to meet inclusivity goals; until the value of a diverse workplace is truly understood, we won’t be able to see past the investment needed to upskill or provide for the individual well-being of women in the industry. MJL recognise the need to diversify and upskill and is actively promoting an inclusive culture in our industry.