International Womens Day 2021: Leaders of Ward Williams Associates

On March 8th the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we want to take the opportunity during B Corp Month 2021 to recognise some of the incredible leaders we have working with us at Ward Williams Associates!

Despite progress made in recent years globally to increase equality for women in the workplace, there is still significant room for growth to enable all women to have the same opportunities as their colleagues. Studies have shown that only around a third of senior roles are held by women globally. And in 2020 the gender pay gap among all employees in the UK was 15.5%.

We spoke to some of the female leaders in our business about this topic and asked them to share their stories, some of the challenges and highlights from their careers so far. We also spoke about any advice they would have for women — or anyone — looking to progress their careers.

Kate Mills – Partner

Grab opportunities to work in industries that are not immediately obvious to you

I spent the first 10 years of my career in the food industry working on global brands including Heinz, McVities and Kenco. When I moved back to the South West a chance conversation in the school playground led to a whole new world. I had 3 children under 5 but was desperate to get back to work. When I returned to my hometown, I thought I had given up the opportunity to work in a fast-paced environment. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I was offered a part-time Marketing and Business Development role with a global engineering consultancy that had a small local office. I knew nothing about construction, had never considered it as an industry and had a false impression that it was all about building sites and mud.  

15 years later, I am heading up the Marketing and Business Development team for Ward Williams Associates. I am learning something new every day! The construction industry is constantly evolving and innovating. From creating sustainable homes to ensuring reliable infrastructure, the industry has a massive impact on all of us. I am constantly challenged to keep abreast of not only technological advances but how we communicate effectively with our clients and colleagues.

While I feel lucky to be working with a company that is open to new ideas and in an industry that embraces change, I feel that other marketeers should seek opportunities to work in less obvious industries. If someone said to me 20 years ago that I would be working in the construction industry I would never have believed them. It just goes to show how skills are transferrable and we can continue to learn and broaden our experiences in new environments that are exciting and continue to provide an enormous opportunity

Nikki Griffiths – Partner

Don’t be afraid to embrace change in an ever-evolving industry!

I completed my first year of A-levels with aspirations of joining the RAF for a military career. An advertisement in the local gazette for a Trainee Quantity Surveyor in our Tavistock office changed this overnight and I joined WWA in 2001.    

Nearly 20 years later I am a Chartered Quantity Surveyor and the Office Lead Partner for our Plymouth office at Ward Williams Associates. No two days are ever the same! The construction sector allows for continuous learning, the opportunity to meet new people and forge new relationships, to get involved with exciting and new innovative and improved ways of constructing and delivering a diverse range of projects in our communities with like-minded professionals.

While I feel fortunate to be working with a company that embraces change, diversity and cares for their people, places and the planet, I feel that those considering their career path should not dismiss a career in construction in what has typically been a male-dominated industry. The stigma associated with male domination in the industry has most definitely dissipated in the last 20 years! The opportunities in construction are huge and there is something to suit everyone’s skillset – don’t be afraid to embrace a change from the ‘norm’ and give it a go!

Tanya Brownridge – Partner

Never underestimate the value of personal and vocational experiences over academic qualifications

With a clutch of top-grade GCSE’s in hand, I started my A levels with enthusiasm and optimism in equal measures, imagining a continuation of my education through to University and beyond. After 3 months I decided that it wasn’t going to be for me. I was offered a trainee role at a local accountants’ office and jumped at the chance to begin my career in finance, earning whilst I learnt instead of what was beginning to feel like pointless academia.

Into my early twenties, I had a young family and a husband in the Army which often left me taking short term positions to ‘fill in’ for interim roles. This worked in my favour; giving me exposure to varying jobs and responsibilities at a young age, learning all aspects of finance and accounting as well as being given opportunities to prove myself. In my mid 20’s I took a temporary role with the RNLI as an assistant accountant. After several months of dealing with investments and funding, due to some reassignments of staff, there was an opening to run the payroll department. I had some payroll experience whilst temping in other roles and met with the FD and boldly stated “I can do that”. Within days I found myself responsible for a team of 10 running a payroll of over 300 staff and 2500 volunteers! I relished the challenge and my position was extended for another 12 months before I moved back to Devon.

Some 30+ years later I find myself in my parents’ position and wonder how I should encourage my own children to further their education. I have concluded that I don’t need to. Everyone of course is different, which is what makes the opportunities around a vocational or an academic pathway even more exciting. WWA completely embodies that ethos and supports a variety of career paths with many flexible ways of working, essential for women who don’t want to get left behind and are more than capable of having a work/life balance. Having a family definitely does not mean sacrificing ambition and a career!

Hollie Griffin – Partner

Don’t let your gender hold you back!

I entered the construction industry 13 years ago and at that time my personal opinion was that the industry was male-dominated and extremely difficult for a woman to progress her career. I entered with the impression that I would have to work extra hard to be taken seriously and I don’t believe my views were completely unfounded as this was generally how construction was stereotyped, both inside and outside the industry.

It was this opinion and my inexperience that gave me the drive to pursue every opportunity that came my way. I was determined not to get stuck under a glass ceiling.

Now that I have the experience and can reflect on the last 13 years, I realise that my views of the construction industry were misguided, and I speak purely from my own experiences. I have been fortunate enough throughout my career to be supported by two mentors, both of which are male. My RICS Supervisor and Councillor were both male and so are the majority of my clients. On the other hand, some of the most talented architects I have worked with are female, along with major investors, other industry-leading professionals and pioneers in new construction technology. I have also been lucky enough to work for companies that both encourage and support their female employees in every aspect.

It is a fantastic industry to be part of, full of opportunity, challenges and yet huge successes. I am extremely proud of the professional achievements I have reached in my career which I believe is a testament to the fact that being a woman in this industry has not disadvantaged me in any way.

Unfortunately, I recently read that “of all the people working in construction, women comprise only 10.3%”. I went on to learn that several factors explain this enormous gender gap, one of which being the overall perceptions of women working in construction. I would agree that there is still some way to go to close the gender gap and one way to do that is for women in the industry to reach out and share their positive experiences. As a Partner of Ward Williams Associates, I aim to support and inspire new colleagues entering the industry and give them the encouragement that I have been fortunate to receive throughout my professional career.