As we mentioned in Part 1 of this mini series, just 14% of the construction industry workforce in 2020 were women and just 2% were women employed on site.
We decided to share two stories from our Facit Homes team in the hope of inspiring others and raising awareness of the possibilities.
Construction has often had a reputation for being a macho industry and the culture that surrounds stereotypical construction behaviour could understandably be a deterrent for women joining the industry.
As most of us are aware, traditional construction is heavily reliant on manual labour -much more so than innovative house building techniques, such as prefabrication and digital manufacturing. Even so, a recent Facit Homes project had just two female trade professionals working on site, a plasterer and a renderer, which took the total percentage of women in the project to 4% - just 5 of the 120 individuals involved.
We strongly believe that there are many roles that women can enter into, especially with the ever evolving digitisation of construction.
Meet Alessandra Di Simone, Contracts Manager at Facit Homes. Alessandra spends her working day with the team in the studio or visiting the construction site to coordinate subcontractors. She often deals with trade professionals required for on site tasks and believes that gender shouldn’t be a barrier.
“Whether you’re a woman shouldn’t be relevant. The majority of construction tasks can be done by anyone.”
As a traditional industry that has been slow to encourage and adopt change, Alessandra believes that this environment isn’t an obvious choice for many women.
“It’s not that women don’t want to do it, more that they aren’t aware of the options.”
However, she believes that the digital transformation of the industry is a more interesting conversation - as it might have a knock on effect and open up construction to many individuals that wouldn’t have otherwise considered it.
“The point is changing the way that people view construction. It is more digital than ever. Our new concept of involving studio leadership on site and using more technology to do this makes construction more efficient and accurate and moves away from the traditional expectations. It changes the rules of the game. Gender balance on site could be a consequence of this approach.”
Managing the project costs and liaising with our customers, as well as dealing with trade professionals, Alessandra interacts with a variety of people and opinions. While the vast majority of construction workers are professional, Alessandra has noticed that some still seem reluctant to embrace change and might question her authority.
“It doesn’t happen very often because most people understand that money doesn’t have a gender. A subcontractor might question what I’m asking them to do. It is annoying but you have to be resilient. It’s just another problem to solve so I don’t give it too much weight. I don’t have time to convince them and I don’t mind whether they have to hear things from me or from Ryan to make it happen.”
A negative industry stereotype is that builders and subcontractors are notoriously difficult to deal with. While plenty do fit this mould, we have managed to find talented, reliable and professional individuals that have quickly become regulars on a Facit Homes site.
“I’ve had some great experiences coordinating with the guys on site. The site culture is always improving and becoming more professional, especially with wider opportunities for more individuals.”
Encouraging women into the industry is something that Alessandra is very keen to get behind as she believes that more need the awareness of the opportunities in construction.
“I think there are so many people that don’t get the chance to be part of the industry. It would be great for more to know about the possibilities. Moving towards more digital processes is a great opportunity for technologically minded people, for example.”
What is a ‘Contracts Manager’?
Alessandra supervises the costs of all orders, coordinating the spend on a project and ensuring that each one stays on budget. As Contracts Manager, she is often found tendering (compiling and comparing prices for professionals to undertake work) but is sometimes also responsible for ordering and organising sub-contractors as part of cost control.
Monitoring the project spend, Alessandra creates monthly valuations for our customers to review and approve. These evaluate the budget that has been spent for the project in that month and following this, Anatilde Conceicao, our Financial Controller at Facit Homes, issues an invoice to be paid by the customer.
If members of the project team are busy completing drawings or technical specifications, Alessandra might step in to place orders on their behalf so they can continue with those tasks.
At the very start of a project, Alessandra works closely with Bruce Bell, CEO of Facit Homes, to create the ‘cost plan’. This is a detailed breakdown of all costs of the project and is based on various factors, such as the size of the building, technical requirements and any detailed design choices.
An overview of all costs in the project, the cost plan is updated whenever any decisions mean changes. Alessandra and Bruce quote a provisional sum when further design or investigation is required to firm up the price of something.
“A cost plan takes a lot of time for us to create and it is something that we are often very proud of once completed. The accuracy of our costs is important to both us and our customers so we take it very seriously.”
They have created from scratch a comprehensive costing software system, which categorises all of the various aspects that make up a project price for the customer. It includes materials, labour, subcontractors, delivery, waste and sundries. Every price draws on historical data including our own meticulously tracked labour costs from live sites.
Journey to Facit Homes
Alessandra’s background and education was in finance with a degree in Economics. In September 2018, she joined Facit Homes as Office Manager and, having been part of the team for a few days, was asked to help with ordering for a new project.
Back in 2018, the Facit Homes process involved different project managers for each project with less overall control over the money spent. Interested in improving the process, solving that problem and helping to make Facit Homes more profitable and efficient, Alessandra’s role pivoted to try to improve the relationship between construction and costing.
“I basically fell in love with construction. It’s challenging. No day is the same and there are always new problems to solve. Very often there aren’t instructions and it’s up to you and your team to resolve the issue.”
Going on to complete a RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) course for Quantity Surveying, Alessandra learnt how to control costs and maximise the value of each construction project. The course gave her an overview of what to expect from a project and how to manage the costs.
Q&A with Alessandra
What is your advice for those starting out?
“Try not to be intimidated by what you might have seen about construction sites. They’re places with real scope for learning.”
What do you love about construction?
“It is logical, problem solving and constantly moving. No day is the same and my job is constantly challenging me to find a way around an issue. Construction is a rational and hands on industry to join and it is less about muscles than ever before.”
Does the team and site culture make a difference?
“Absolutely. Working in the studio with Bruce and the team is collaborative. We try not to take things too seriously. It can be stressful so being able to step back and find the funny side of things definitely helps. Visiting the construction team on site has shown me how much of a difference professional and genuinely nice individuals can make to a site atmosphere.”
Should women join the industry?
“Yes! I don’t know any women in construction (except for Jan) but I hope that the digital approach to construction will mean that more start to consider it.
It has a reputation for back breaking work, which is not always the case - especially with Facit Homes construction projects. It would be great for more women to know about the roles available and feel encouraged to join an evolving industry.”