Inspiring Women, Building Britain

On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of joining around 150 students, parents and industry figures at the second annual Taylor Woodrow Inspiration Lecture held in the grand surroundings of One Great George Street in Westminster – the home of The Institution of Civil Engineers.

One Great George Street – Home of the ICE

The theme of this years lecture – intended to put those at the start of their journeys in front of inspiring industry professionals – was around encouraging women into construction industry careers and some top women speakers had been assembled to speak at the event.  The speakers were Emma McNab – Business Excellence Manager, Taylor Woodrow; Ann Collins – Managing Director of Conren Limited (a specialist subsidiary of Vinci Plc); and Beth West – Commercial Director, HS2.  Anthony Oliver – Editor of Infrastructure Intelligence – chaired the event.

Inspiring Women, Building Britain

The event started in the Great Hall of the ICE where a host of young construction professionals – mostly women – from across Taylor Woodrow manned stands and discussed their roles in the business to the many attendees as they arrived.  These roles included Engineers,Community Liaison Managers, Quantity Surveyors, Quality Engineers, Project Managers, Planners amongst others.

Design Manager Pippa Higgins talking to a student
The Great Hall at One Great George Street. Fabulous room.

At the allotted hour Rail Sector Director Fred Garner called the attendees through to the impressive surroundings of the oak panelled Telford Theatre to hear the speakers talks.  Antony Oliver introduced the event and spoke of his time as editor of the NCE and now at Infrastructure Intelligence and the need for more young people into the industry and the benefits of diversity to the industry.

Emma McNab spoke first and described her journey to Business Excellence Manager.  She described many of the projects she had worked on in her early years and even showed a photograph of her on site wearing shorts.  She also described how few women there were in the company at that time and how things have changed.  She reinforced what her colleagues had been earlier saying that there are many different roles for women and men in the construction process and that a diverse workforce results in a better organisation.

Emma McNab of Taylor Woodrow
Emma McNab in full flow

Next up was Ann Collins who described a quite different route to her current position.  Ann described that when started her working careers women’s role were basically in admin and secretarial.  She described how a chance opportunity led through hard work to the position she now holds in Conren.  How in the early days the male workforce took some convincing that she was for real.

Ann Collins of Conren describing the business.
Ann Collins of Conren

Last up was Beth West of HS2 whose story was very different again.  Beth holds one of the top roles in UK infrastructure currently but is not a civil engineer.  Beth started her career on Capitol Hill in Washington DC working for the House of Representatives before a role in project finance banking in New York.  She relayed how a period spent volunteering in Bosnia early on made her realise that groups fight over ‘stuff’ and that if everyone has enough ‘stuff’ – like decent infrastructure – then there is less reason to fight.  This was one of her drivers for a career in Infrastructure.  I wonder how many in construction see our role as helping to make war obsolete?

Beth West describing her route from the USA to HS2
Beth West of HS2

With the speakers done with their presentations it was time for some comments from Anthony Oliver and a few questions from the audience.  These were focused – as you would expect – on roles for women and improving gender equality in business, but also on increasing the number of students of both genders choosing engineering and construction as careers.  An interesting debate followed on this topic.

A question from a young audience member

With the formal part of the evening done with it was time for the audience and speakers alike to retire to the Great Hall for drinks and canapes – and lots more discussion and networking.

Beth West (left) talking with Antony Oliver and others
Networking in the Great Hall
The Great Hall

And why was I there?  Well I was there partly to hear the speakers talk, partly to support the event, partly as a STEM Ambassador, and partly as I was the official photographer for the evening in lieu of a ‘hired-in’ professional.  I thoroughly enjoyed taking the photos (on a pro level camera rented for the purposes of) and on the basis of the results I am very keen to do so again at similar events.

Speaker Biographies

Emma McNab – Business Excellence Manger, Taylor Woodrow
Emma has seen her career develop from graduate engineer to Business Excellence Manager for Taylor Woodrow.  As a Chartered Engineer, with a wide experience base covering everything from airport development to ensuring London’s water supply.  Emma now helps shape not only how Taylor Woodrow operates but also an active voice in raising quality across the industry.

Ann Collins – Managing Director, Conren Limited
Since joining Conren as Sales Administration Manager, Anne has progressed to Brand Manager and then Business Development Director to develop the sales and marketing strategy for the company.  Having gained a thorough knowledge of the manufacturing, commercial, and technical aspects of the business, Ann was promoted to Managing Director and currently manages the business based in North Wales and Derbyshire.

Beth West – Commercial Director, HS2
Beth joined HS2 as Commercial Director and is responsible for commercial strategy, procurement, supplier management, land and property acquisitions and management, regeneration and economic analysis.  Prior to joining HS2, Beth spent nine years at Transport for London (TfL), initially as Principal in the Corporate Finance team and then as Head of Commercial Advisory and Risk at London Underground, providing commercial advice and strategy.  In 2009, Beth became Head of Commercial Procurement at London Underground, responsible for delivering improved commercial capability.

Antony Oliver – Editor, Infrastructure Intelligence
As Editor of Infrastructure Intelligence, a new independent information resource for the infrastructure design, delivery and operation sector, Antony is helping unite the diverse professions involved in the infrastructure supply chain.  Previously Antony worked as a journalist and then Editor of the New Civil Engineer.  As Editor of NCE, he was responsible for driving their portfolio of live events and conferences, most recently leading the magazine’s move to digital.  Antony is a member of the Green Construction Board’s promotion working group, an industry awards judge and active supporter of engineering disaster relief charity RedR.  Anony is a Chartered Civil Engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

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