This is part of a special report produced in partnership with Gleeds

Having graduated from Carleton University in Canada, Buckingham University and UCL in the UK and Nigeria Law School, it is perhaps unsurprising that Nigerian-born Doris Okechukwu Mbadiwe has gone on to be a construction industry leader in her country.

She is not only a lawyer but also the deputy managing director at Inter-Bau Construction, an award-winning indigenous construction company in Nigeria that has been operational for more than four decades.

The firm specialises in building and civil engineering works, erosion control and engineering consultancy, carrying out mostly federal and state capital projects.

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But Mbadiwe says that despite her clear passion for the construction sector, it was not always on the cards for her as a career.

>> Special report: Women in construction

She says: “It was not always the plan; my entry into the construction industry was as the company secretary for Inter-Bau Construction.” 

After holding this position for nine years, she was elevated to the position of executive director, then later promoted to the position of deputy managing director.

During her initial nine-year stint as the firm’s legal adviser, Mbadiwe looked to embed herself in the industry by taking courses in business and project management, as well as learning from the construction professionals around her.

“All these endeavours were driven by the passion I developed to be part of shaping the built environment, contribute to sustainable infrastructure development and the desire to see more women participate at all levels in the industry,” she says.

On this last point Mbadiwe has been a particular advocate, serving as a board member for Inter-Bau Foundation for Women and Youth, a non-profit organisation established to bridge the skills and gender gap in the Nigerian construction industry.

Since its inception in 2021, the foundation has trained around 80 women and young people in vocational construction skills and reached more than 3,000 girls and women in its activities to move construction into the mainstream for these demographics.

She is also the construction sector lead for Nigeria and West Africa at Women in Infrastructure Community Africa, an organisation that advocates and builds capacity for women to work on sustainable infrastructure development.

Mbadiwe’s work in these organisations has been driven by the wish to tackle the barriers within the sector that she herself initially felt obstructed by.

She says her two biggest career challenges were, firstly, not being taken seriously by the construction professionals who felt she was not competent enough coming from a legal background and, secondly, being a woman in a maledominated industry.

“My biggest career achievement is being part of a process and work community that empowers women and youth. This stands out for me because it improves the life and livelihood of the beneficiaries,” says Mbadiwe.

She adds that in order to increase the participation rate of women in the construction industry in Nigeria, the government needs to step in by amending laws, ordinances and policies that foster gender inequality and implementing new laws that ensure gender equality, inclusion and sensitivity.

“They should also encourage the private and public sector players to embrace gender inclusion and equality and accord those who are gender responsive some form of preference in bids and procurement processes,” she says.

Asked about her favourite project, Mbadiwe says the Port Harcourt International Airport project in Omagwa was the best scheme in which she has been involved.

She says the challenges experienced on this project taught her patience and resilience, while allowing her to work on a landmark scheme that is among the most patronised airports in the country.

Her advice to other Nigerian women looking to enter the built environment industries is to “be ‘irresistible and indispensable’, in whatever role you seek to participate in”. She explains that this means to be knowledgeable and prepared, work smart, choose influential allies, be resilient and adaptable, and have a leader mentality.

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