Exclusive Interview with Haidee Gonsalves

In the past the construction industry has had a reputation of lacking female representation across all levels with the gender gap becoming more acute the higher up the career ladder you go.

Haidee Gonsalves, Hi-Tech & Manufacturing Associate Director at Turner & Townsend, has worked in the construction industry for over 10 years across a wide range of sectors including major data centre developments.

  1. What interested you to a career in construction? 

I actually started out on a non-cognate route into construction having completed a Law degree at university. Luckily, I wasn’t on my own as about 90% of the graduate intake I began my career with were also non-cognates. The lure of potentially working on major construction projects that would (hopefully) develop into historical landmarks was what interested me initially. However, I’ve since enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that most projects I’ve worked on have a valuable contribution to society and you have a sense of real purpose that you can explain to people looking at getting involved in the industry.

 

  1. What is your greatest achievement to date? 

 

The project that gives me the greatest sense of achievement to date has got to be the Francis Crick Institute which I worked on for about 3 and a half years. It certainly is a landmark building and of such great importance. It’s siting across the road from St. Pancras and the Eurostar gives that link to a wider community. The design principles were fascinating with the aim to create a space to “cross-pollinate” different scientific disciplines who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths.

 

 3. Do you feel efforts to improve female representation in the construction industry are starting to build momentum?

I think it is but we need to be careful to not become complacent and keep pushing forward for real change as there is still a considerable way to go. I would also urge organisations to be more proactive to demonstrate practical solutions and their impact with real, measurable results.

We need to address all the issues that traditionally make it difficult for women to build a career in this industry, such as allowing flexible working arrangements; better maternity / paternity arrangements; support for those returning to work after extended periods away from the work place; push back on “boys’ club” culture; business development events that have a minimum quota of women and that are at more manageable hours for those with family commitments, etc.

4. What do you think can be done to help balance the huge gender gap in the data centre industry?

Firstly, we need to champion the few strong women in the industry – we shouldn’t underestimate the power of seeing someone who shares the same demographic as you to convince you that you can also do the same job. I’ve also said before that the Data Centre industry can feel quite closed off with its own language and small circles – we need to open this up and demystify it.

There’s a cultural change that needs to happen as well where the environment is more inviting and accepting of women. It’s been majority-male for so long that it’s quite a big shift that’s required. Additionally, there are plenty of studies that suggest that children develop an idea of their preferred career at a very young age so we need to ensure we’re reaching out to this age group at that point – this can be via a STEM arrangement or otherwise.

5. What advice would you give to young women who may think construction is “just for boys”?

There is absolutely nothing to suggest that it is or should be – I have a network of some wonderful women in the industry covering a variety of roles and at different levels who would argue the point as well.

In fact, the RICS Governing Council is currently made up of 40% women which should demonstrate the desire of the industry to change perception. At Turner & Townsend we’ve had our first UK MD in Patricia Moore – this is amazingly refreshing and inspiring to those of us in the industry already so should be another example to younger women of this being anybody’s industry.

6.In 2018, almost 29% of FTSE 100 board positions were held by women. Do you feel enough progress has been made by businesses in getting more women to the top?

No – enough progress won’t have been made until we hit at least 50%! However, as mentioned previously, momentum has increased over the last couple of years so hopefully we get there quicker than we have to get to 29%.