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I’ve worked in Construction Project Management for 11 years and have experience across various industries – from gas and power to infrastructure and now logistics at Co-op. A particular highlight has been leading a team of Project Managers on the build and fit out of our new 661,000 sq ft Biggleswade depot in Bedfordshire. 

The Co-op’s values, vision and commitment to communities are part of the reason I love working here. Equality and equity are two of our founding values and they’re still important to how we do things today. We have inclusive policies, active colleague diversity networks and a leadership team that believes that everyone should be able to bring their whole selves to work every day. 

The construction industry’s reputation for being an inclusive place to work is nowhere near as advanced as the Co-op’s, although it’s talked about more and things are starting to change. 

Building a more equal future 

Women make up half the population, but under 15% of the construction workforce is female. Researchers estimate that at the current rate, it will take almost 200 years to achieve gender equality in the construction industry. 

It’s not surprising that this is the case when the first experience girls have of the industry is walking by a construction site. There are also not a lot of visible female role models, so it’s hard for girls and young women to see that construction is for everyone. This is something we’re trying to change through being involved in the Girls Out Loud mentoring programme. 

There are five of us from across Property who are paired with 13-year-old girls from a local Co-op Academy. We’re there to share our experiences with them, give them advice and help them reach their full potential. The scheme isn’t all focussed on careers but it’s one element of it. We’re able to share what we do and show them that property careers aren’t just about hard hats and high-vis vests.  

It’s been such a rewarding and eye-opening experience. There are few opportunities in life where you can have a profound impact on another persons’ life, and Girls Out Loud is one of them. 

Change starts at home 

We set up our Women in Property network after last year’s International Women’s Day. We’ve got a full committee now and have been busy gathering data about our colleagues’ experiences, as well as organising networking and development events for our members.  

The core team members are women, but everyone has a role to play in making the industry and world a more equal place. Men can support by listening and understanding the challenges women face. Then turning that information into allyship by challenging poor behaviours, supporting action plans or sponsoring a female colleague. Senior leaders also need to think strategically with succession planning so that the leaders of tomorrow are more diverse than the leaders of today. 

Lots done, lots still to do 

When you think that my great-grandmother was the first women in my family to vote, you realise how far we’ve come. But there’s still more to be done. 

I want to break down more barriers for the next generation of women coming into property. The aim? That women will be able to define success on their own terms, free from judgement, bias and discrimination. 

Francesca Walsh,

Construction Manager