Deborah Rowe committee member of The Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction group (CIMCIG) has been in the Construction Industry for nearly 30 years, we find out about the change and challenges she has seen in this time
Tell us about your experience as a woman in the construction industry and the roles that you have taken on.
I originally started as a technical editor at CIBSE, then became Lighting Division Secretary, and would often be the only woman in the room at a meeting or conference. I considered building services engineering, or facilities management, as the next step but, in the absence of a decent mentor, I got waylaid by marketing. One postgrad marketing diploma, and MCIM, later, I started my construction marketing career at a subsidiary of High Point Rendel.
Over the years, I’ve worked in academic publishing, professional services and professional associations, almost always with a connection to construction, civil engineering and the built environment. I finally took everything I’d learned and applied it to working for myself as a marketing consultant and technical writer. My first client was ICE Conferences and I’ve been happily working for myself, as Sheba Marketing, for nearly 20 years(!). For my sins, and as a nod to giving something back, I’m on the organising committee for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG) and I’ve been on the judging panel for the Construction Marketing Awards in recent years.
What challenges you have faced in your career and how you overcame them?
Probably the biggest challenge has been getting the industry to take marketing seriously as a strategic business tool, rather than just a tactical tool that ‘produces leaflets’. Construction marketing is not about quick fixes – it’s an important part of the bigger picture that achieves the strategic goals. As a Construction Marketing Awards judge, it’s been reassuring to see the strategic elements reflected in the high quality of the entries submitted and those going on to win.
These days, I tend to work directly with decision-makers in SMEs, who have a specific requirement and the wherewithal to make things happen. Generally, I’ve found that organisations are more likely to listen to a consultant, than an employee – which is ridiculous. I don’t know, perhaps it helps to focus the mind when someone is charging by the day…
Staying up-to-date in the fast-changing environment that is construction marketing, is very important to me, and I’ve always taken responsibility for my own professional development. Knowledge is power – I don’t expect to know everything, but I do expect to know where to look for answers.
Deborah’s additional thoughts:
The positives of working in the construction industry.
Construction and the built environment is a great industry to be in. I’ve been in and out of it (but mostly in) for nearly 30 years and I can see that things have changed. There’s still a long way to go but there are many more women, and women of colour, visibly working on high-profile projects at every level.
It really does make me proud when I see TV programmes that show the exciting side of the industry, like the one on the Shard, or see a full feature in Vogue on the women working on Crossrail. OK, it was a fashion piece but it was about real women in construction! That wouldn’t have happened even five years ago. The point is that these things give people an insight into what makes construction tick – warts and all – and they are surprised… and interested.
Your views on what the industry needs to do to help attract and retain more women.
From conversations I’ve had with other women in the industry, I’d say a better attitude to flexible working would help. The ability to work compressed hours, or working from home on occasion, would be a great help to many people – not just women.
Maybe some help with professional development, for those who’ve taken time out of the industry, to keep them topped up… so that it’s not such a shock to the confidence when they come back.
We can do a better job of making people more aware of what a great and varied industry this is to work in – not just in the trades but across the board. People tend to forget that there are marketers, financiers, project managers and administrators, in the industry as well – those roles can be as rewarding in construction and the built environment as they are in retail for example. We just need to shout more about the roles, the projects and the opportunities. There are some great initiatives out there, and CIMCIG is trying to find a way to make the information centrally available so that more people can get involved. It needs to come from within the industry.
Finally, address the gender pay gap. Nobody wants to hear that their male colleague, with comparable or less experience, is earning more than they are. It’s a no-brainer – stop paying what you can get away with. Pay people what they are worth, encourage them to have a decent work-life balance, and encourage them to develop professionally and personally, and most of them will stick around.