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Balancing the scales of diversity!

 

Diversity and inclusion are the hot topics in the construction industry, be it in the Middle East or around the world.

 

April 6, 2021
 
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Balancing the scales of diversity!
 

While historically a male-dominated industry, the built environment is gradually becoming an all-inclusive industry that is attracting more female workforce, especially in the Middle East. This is thanks to the strategies implemented by the government bodies regionally. Some regions, like KSA, aims to increase women empowerment and economic participation from 17% to 25% by 2030.

Last year, when CM today began this journey on featuring women in the built environment, it opened many inspirational stories from influential women. While construction was not an obvious choice for many it proved to be a passionate, successful, and fulfilling one. While titles like ‘Construction – A Boy’s Club’ is no longer an apt one, many women still find themselves being the only woman in the room. Having said that, the change is taking place. Though it has taken time to get to this point of recognition, there is a movement with many players within the industry acknowledging the imbalance and taking steps to rectify it.

This year, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, CM today does a round-up of influential men in the region, who give their take on gender balance in the workplace.

ABDULLA AL-WAHEDI, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, IRTIKAZ GROUP

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

Women professionals can make a difference in the workplace as soon as they join an organization. They usually excel in the workplace; whichever industry they specialize in. They have the power to make decisions in the built environment based on gender roles, and the nature of gender subordination. Also, their rights and entitlements contribute significantly to the capacity to adapt in the environment.

What initiatives has your organisation taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

The way I look at this growing number of businesses in competing effectively in an increasingly diverse employment in the workplace and the built environment perspective has fallen into two main categories: firstly, academic, and secondly, experience and how to approach practicality. In this way our organization makes sure that all employees have the same access to opportunities as this will promote a better work-life balance for both genders.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

Women’s presence on leading teams is generally associated with a stronger social commitment as they tend to be more participatory providing initiatives and are straightforward in embracing adaptability – their ability to adjust to the surrounding culture and the business processes in their respective fields. With their built-in resilience and qualities - in skill, knowledge, experience, and emotion women in leadership positions are pushing the boundaries of gender equality in the industry.

The big challenge is to keep our perspectives top of mind – our industry need be resilient that change will come.

ALEX BARZYCKI, PROPERTY ASSET MANAGER, CBRE

When I was asked to comment on the “need for more women in the built environment” my initial reaction was surprise that I had been asked! Most of the influential people in my property career have been women, supporting me through initial work experience, teaching me valuation cash flows, promoting ideas, encouraging development and challenging processes.

What have I learnt from my experience? Balance is key. Diversity should be recognized in all areas of the built environment from day to day occupier engagement to high level fund strategy. For me it’s less about gender and more about the benefits of different approaches to a situation. Having diversity will lead to more options, better thought processes and decision making, leading to more successful outcomes for all.

I was privileged to have been part of the CBRE Property Management Graduate Scheme whilst in London. This process showed me how difficult it was to differentiate yourself from the “pack”. Those who did, showed real spark, using their character and passion for the built environment to showcase their individuality. The balance and diversity within this group was exceptional, and I hope the next wave of surveyors will bring something new.

It’s clear that CBRE has made great progress in addressing this balance, all in the vision to drive service and value for our clients.

GARRY MURRAY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, CORE REAL ESTATE

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

I believe in achieving balance in everything that we do. The next generation is achieving this by breaking down a lot of historical stereotypes of gender roles in the society. The built environment has been and still is a predominantly male-oriented business. By bringing more female into positions across the industry this will bring more balance to operations and strategies.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

For me, the best initiative is to avoid it being a conscious issue within your company. Treat your team as equals then gender shouldn’t be a barrier. In our wider organization, we have numerous women either leading departments or holding important positions.

In previous roles, I have noted we had a very male-orientated leadership. So we expanded our reach internally to bring our female staff into the management meetings and built them into not only the day-to-day but also the strategic management and vision of the company. It was an interesting dynamic having teams led by the women in the company, and it worked and brought a much more cohesive company culture.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

I think it is becoming more apparent both from the client and service provider side that there are more and more women taking senior positions. It brings a new dynamic as you are challenging stereotypes and changing company cultures.

GREG WARD, MANAGING DIRECTOR, TRANSGUARD GROUP

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

Rather than focus on gender as a reason to bring someone into a particular sector, I make it a point to seek out subject matter experts when building my teams. If these specialists happen to be women, fantastic. But that should never be a reason to hire or promote someone.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

Transguard’s leadership team is comprised of individuals who demonstrate not only business acumen and a keen understanding of their particular sector or discipline. The men and women on this team have an equal place at the table because they are committed to growing the business from the foundation of their expertise. This is not a new initiative or a kneejerk reaction to the winds of political change – it’s just good business sense

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

Transguard is a standard-bearer, which is why I think it’s about time that other companies are finally joining us in welcoming female leaders to the conversation. We’ve been in this place for years and quite honestly, I don’t understand why it’s taken a global effort for the industry to wake up to the reality that leadership has nothing to do with gender. If you want your business to grow, you hire people (men and women) who will take you there.

JOHN NOLAN, CEO & MOHAMMED BUNDAKJI, MD, INITIAL SAUDI GROUP

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

John: There is no doubt that globally the built environment is still very male-dominated. If asked to visualize an architect, an engineer, or a facility manager, you are far more likely to imagine a man than a woman. But things are changing and these changes are definitely for the better of the industry.

We know that having more women in the workplace in general creates a more successful and productive environment, but looking specifically at the built environment I believe there is one very good reason why we need more women.

A building designed, built and run purely by men is probably going to be better suited to men than women. So if we want our buildings to be successfully designed and managed with everybody in mind, both men and women, it makes a great deal of sense to have both men and women involved at every stage of the build process and therefore in every sector of the industry.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

Mohammed: Vision 2030 aspires to create a society in which all men and women are provided with equal opportunity to excel in whatever they wish. Our passions, careers, and our life are only limited by our ambitions. As good talent is becoming increasingly more important and in demand, we strive as an organization to support the development of these abilities to better cater to our Kingdom’s growing demand for skilled employees, both women and men.

Entrepreneurship, Training, and mentoring programs are key tools we use to encourage our female employees to realize their full potential and grow professionally. These programs provide our women with the opportunity to command leadership roles within the company and can be seen through the many events we hold to capture and nurture these talents, such as the ISG International Women’s Day event held recently. As the Kingdom moves forward with Vision 2030 a key element of its success will be the contribution made by its women, and our organization stands strongly with our Kingdom’s Vision for the future and for its female workforce.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

John: It is still an unfortunate truth that women leaders in the industry are the exception rather than the rule. This does however mean that good female leaders tend to grab the headlines and make great role models for other women aspiring to make their mark. Essentially they are making their impact by proving that it is possible to be a successful woman leader in an industry dominated, for now, by men.

It is worth remembering two very notable women in the industry who definitely led by example. Zaha Hadid, who sadly died in 2016, was a British Iraqi architect recognized as one of the major figures in architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Her most famous designs include the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics and the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

Secondly, Emily Warren Roebling was a true pioneer. She was a 19th century engineer, famous for her contribution to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

KANAGARAJ GURUSAMY, DIRECTOR - OWNERS AFFAIRS DEYAAR COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

I believe that bringing in gender balance in the built environment will make a significant difference to the industry at large. A woman’s skillsets, experience, thought-process, and attitude will add value to any organization. A classic example we have seen in recent times is the inclusion of women in the space programs and the value the women in the leadership roles brought towards the success of the mission. Hence, more women in leadership positions in the built environment will bring in the much-required balance to the industry.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace

We take gender equality very seriously in our organization. We have consciously strived to bring a balance in the workplace and included 46 % percent of women in the team. These professionals have been contributing to a variety of roles. Through such initiatives we have gained better results, seen growth in the business, and customer satisfaction.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

I believe the female leaders are making an impact in the industry. When you look at the Community Management industry at large, we can see many women in strong roles and bringing in changes towards the community they manage. They are encouraging other women in the industry and ensuring growth on a holistic level. I hope this continues to grow as the industry needs more women professionals to join.

PRABHU RAMACHANDRAN, FOUNDER & CEO, FACILIO

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

Women are obliterating every roadblock in the workplace and real estate industry, rewriting culture and history, in the process. According to Globest, women now hold 43% of commercial real estate positions worldwide – a proud feat, when you consider that just a little over a century ago when the National Association of Realtors was founded, it had a total of zero women. Having said that, we're now beginning to see large organizations adopt programs and structured avenues, to set this issue right. Paths for women to succeed in career and leadership roles, within the real estate industry, are becoming well-established.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

At Facilio, we’re committed to leaving no stone unturned in creating an environment where every voice has a seat at the table, where we continuously learn and improve through dialogue, and where we aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. These are everyday discussions, which are now consciously ingrained, within our work culture.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

Women are breaking gender stereotypes and stepping into historically male-dominated fields, and the commercial real estate industry is no exception. Women occupy many executive roles, functional leadership, and partner roles. Typically, every customer/prospect, that we serve and speak with, has strong women team members, with a significant representation in senior decision-making roles. This speaks to the strength and impact of women, in shaping the future of the built environment industry.

STUART HARRISON, CEO, EMRILL

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

Ideally, we want more women in the built environment and every other environment. In my experience, there is no job a man can do that a woman cannot. At Emrill, for example, 50 percent of our executive leadership team is female, which is fairly unique in our sector. However, less than 1 percent of on-ground floor technician roles are held by women, and this is something we want to change. And we’re starting to see this happening. We have more women than ever training as lift operators, security guards, and machine operators, roles traditionally thought of as ‘male’.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

Emrill has set the bar high in terms of ensuring not just gender equality but also a real culture of inclusion and diversity. We hope that potential female applicants see our executive leadership team and are encouraged to apply for junior or more technical roles. Rather than putting female-specific initiatives in place, we have focused on ensuring all employees, regardless of gender, are treated equally. This has enabled us to attract some of the best talents in the FM market – male and female.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

I think the essence of gender diversity is we are all equal, so I wouldn’t want to single out male or female leaders. We are all business leaders, and we all contribute equally to the success of Emrill’s business. What is more important is that leadership teams are made up of the best people for the job, and there are no barriers to women.

TAREK NIZAMEDDIN, SENIOR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EJADAH

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment?

Many mistakenly think that the success of FM operations depends entirely on the technical and engineering component. Women possess unique aptitudes that make them especially good facilities managers, including the ability to empathize, effective self-awareness and self-management, and consistently strong problem-solving, social, and communication skills. Diversity in FM teams should also represent that of the buildings’ occupants to ensure true understanding and ability to predict their unique needs, as well as the inclusion of an important perspective.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

We are proud of our female talent and their significant daily contributions to both Ejadah’s corporate and field operations in all departments. As a regional sector-leader, we intend to drive change towards increasing female leadership. We currently employ 1,400+ female colleagues, comprising 10% of our 11K+ workforce, distributed in different organizational levels, including senior management. Our recruitment policy ensures equal opportunity to all candidates for Blue-collar staff positions. We also organize numerous femaleempowerment initiatives, with a focus on female health and wellbeing.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

Women are breaking barriers and finding their way into this sector, creating success stories as leaders, and helping guide its future. In the UAE, several female FM leaders, are contributing immensely to the advancement of the sector, both on the client and service providers’ side.

TONY MARTIN, CEO, AL BONIAN FM

Why do you feel there is a need for more women in the built environment

Simple really. There just needs to be. I visited Brazil for work several years back to consult on FM for several large developments. As you walk around the sites it is clear that they have no issues with women actively working, supervising, or managing the projects. I spoke in-depth with the senior management and they advised me that the women were by far the most proactive, consistent, and quality-driven workers they had! What’s not to like about that, right? This mind-set has a long way to be achieved globally.

What initiatives has your organization taken towards bringing in gender equality in the workplace?

Over the past 24 months, we have been steadily increasing the number of women, who work for us. The pandemic and its impact have very much curtailed our plans. The inclusion of women via the utilization of internship programs was also well on its way to being achieved though again this was impacted by the pandemic. We will be revisiting these initiatives shortly.

How do you feel female leaders are making an impact in this industry?

To be very frank, in this region they are not. This I would suggest is due to a lack of opportunity and the correct gender balance that is not being followed. I have come across many formidable women during my time here in the region, and many of them in senior roles, though very few in CEO/COO or senior operational roles. This again is a poor reflection on the industry. In an attempt to not only identify the actual bottlenecks are but how to get rid of them and start the flow of the high caliber of women candidates.

 

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