Joanne Casey: Joined-up approach required to attract women and young people into property and construction
New MD of housebuilder Mactaggart & Mickel’s English division, Joanne Casey, discusses her route to success within the property and construction industry and how we need to inspire more young people and women into this thriving and diverse industry.
My son used to boast to his friends that I had the best job in the world - working with dumpers and diggers. Although he was only five at the time, he wasn’t alone in his misconception that working in the construction industry meant that your days were spent working with heavy equipment in the mud!
The construction sector touches upon almost every part of our daily lives and makes a vital contribution to the economy. As we celebrate International Women’s Day later this week, women working in this vibrant and diverse sector have certainly moved the goalposts. More women are in senior roles than ever before, climbing the ladder and carving out rewarding careers.
My personal route into construction came about while I was on maternity leave. A friend suggested that I would be well-suited to selling new homes and she was right. I started as a sales negotiator and continued working through the ranks for a number of leading UK housebuilders, learning the role and progressing from sales manager to a sales director before joining family housebuilder, Mactaggart & Mickel. I’ve recently become their first female managing director – heading up the English division as we expand into this new geographical market.
Undoubtedly women are still a long way from redressing the gender balance, particularly in gaining a seat at the boardroom table, however a growing number of housebuilders are seeing the many benefits that come from bringing more women into the business. We certainly have - I’m surrounded by an all-female marketing and sales team, my in-house architectural design team are predominately women and a number of roles within our land team, procurement, business operations and finance are filled by women in senior positions.
So far, so good? Not quite. The industry is facing an ageing workforce and, with not enough young people and women entering the sector, the talent pool is shrinking and we are in the midst of a well-publicised skills shortage. There is still a huge amount to be done to change the outdated perception of the industry so that we can attract, recruit and retain talented young people, regardless of gender, into the wide-ranging roles available at all levels.
These challenges can’t be tackled alone. Real change needs a truly joined-up approach with Government, the industry, relevant bodies and career advisors. Importantly we need to start the conversation about working in construction – whether that involves diggers or not - at primary school level so that pupils can consider relevant areas to study or apprenticeships to pursue. Importantly we need to highlight role models and celebrate the achievements of women in the industry and collectively step up our efforts and be proactive in meeting this challenge.
Within Mactaggart & Mickel, we are playing our part in bringing in and developing the best people to bring their skills and talents to bear. We are the first Scottish housebuilder to be awarded the prestigious Investors in People Platinum status – thanks to a number of initiatives designed to promote a healthy work-life balance and to nurture and develop talent. These include our flexible working scheme, our apprenticeship scheme, our Emerging Leaders programme and our Institute of Leadership and Management programme to name but a few.
The reality is that the housebuilding and wider construction industry offers a wealth of opportunities for those interested in making a real impact on tomorrow’s landscape. The sector is incredibly diverse and has a breadth of job opportunities available; from quantity surveying to project management and marketing, with a huge variety of entry routes and an abundance of opportunities for career progression.
Now more than ever, women and young people need to take a fresh look at the world of property and construction. I am delighted my daughter studied for a property degree and is now an associate director in a property investment company – reaping the many opportunities and rewards that this wider sector brings.
Challenges aside, I’m optimistic for a future where more of our children will start putting the goal of working in this exciting and varied industry at the very top of their wish list.