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

“Construction is a brilliant industry; I wouldn’t have worked in it for 20 years if it wasn’t. It’s just a question of how we level up opportunity, education and understanding across the industry to make it a really great place for everybody to work,” says Kirsty Shrubsall, head of sustainability and buildings for the southern region at Sir Robert McAlpine.

Born, raised and still residing in Norfolk, Shrubsall says there is much to recommend the construction industry as a workplace of choice for women but there is still a significant way to go.

Head shot of Kirst Shrubsall

“We want the best talent and we want the best people for the job, so we need to create the environment that is going to attract them,” she explains. 

>> Special report: Women in construction

“That means creating diverse and inclusive, safe spaces for the best talent to join and thrive, being aware of our behaviours within our businesses, and making that as attractive for everybody as we can.”

She says she is a big believer in the phrase: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

As for her own journey in construction, Shrubsall says that while she has a great passion for the industry, it was not a path she had planned from the outset.

“Though I have always loved working in the industry, like a lot of people I fell into construction,” she says. “Sometimes construction chooses us; we don’t necessarily choose it.”

She adds: “I have been working in construction for as long as I wish to remember! My first job was as site secretary when I was in my early 20s, and I have been in the industry ever since.”

Shrubsall goes on to explain that she had a very supportive boss when in her first site secretary job and he gave her increasing amounts of responsibility.

She says this led to her discovering that she had an affinity with the industry and went on to work on more of a pre‑construction assistant role. 

She said her next employer, Wates, was working on a prison project near where she lived. It was there that she gained an opportunity as an assistant design manager.

“This was back in 2008, when sustainability organically fell into the design function. The responsibility for BREEAM assessments and any of the other sustainability requirements fell with me, and that was where my passion for sustainability developed,” Shrubsall elaborates.

“As I had the opportunity to do more technical training, I decided sustainability was the direction I wanted to take my career.”

She says that this taught her that when you are passionate about something, you see beyond the tick‑box approach.

She says she has found it exciting to see the sustainability agenda move beyond environmental assessment methods and carbon reduction and develop into more of a holistic approach. 

When it comes to advice for other women looking to enter the built environment, Shrubsall says that being prepared to step out of your comfort zone is key, and that she herself did this when she joined Sir Robert McAlpine 12 months ago – leaving a role she had been in for a decade and a half. 

Shrubsall also says it is important to hold onto a sense of self in what is still a male‑dominated industry.

She finishes by saying: “Don’t change who you are as a woman to fit a mould you think or you have been told exists. You are as good as anybody else to do the job that you have chosen to do, and don’t ever be told otherwise.”

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