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

“We need to advocate, more. We need to change the narrative – this industry needs women,” says Lichelle Neethling. “Female leaders could and should do much more to instil the confidence in young females to simply believe that they can have a successful career in this industry.”

Neethling, who is a director at Rider Levett Bucknall, is passionate about getting more women into construction both in her home country of South Africa and globally.

She says it is imperative to start engaging girls from an early age to show them that there is hope of a successful career in the industry.

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She says that role models and visibility of possible career paths are key to this, as is evident from her own journey.

>> Special report: Women in construction

The daughter of a quantity surveyor, Neethling says she is an example of the beneficial effects of teaching young women and girls about the sector.

“I grew up knowing what it was like to be part of the construction industry, and I quite liked it. We’d regularly drive around on Sunday afternoons trying to find building sites,” she recalls, saying her father “really ignited the interest for me to work toward a quantity surveying degree. I realised early on that I had big shoes to fill.”

A mother to two daughters aged six and nine, she lives and works in Stellenbosch, a town in the Cape Winelands about 50km from Cape Town.

She heads up an office of six quantity surveyors, having been asked to set up the office base by the Africa group chief executive of Rider Levett Bucknall, Nicolas Sheard, in 2017.

Neethling prides herself on being a leader and says her hope is that everyone who engages with her is inspired to work hard and pursue their dreams.

“I would have to say, being an empathetic leader – it takes a lot of time, skill and patience to become the leader you want to be and I am proud of the growth I’ve achieved over the years,” says Neethling. “Being a good leader has always been more important to me than any title or accolade.”

While Neethling is now a director and shareholder within the firm, she concedes that her path through the industry has not always been smooth sailing. She says that in the early stages of her career she struggled to earn the respect of clients and colleagues alike.

“People tend to think you know nothing when you’re young. And of course, being a female in a male-driven industry has its own challenges,” she says. She admits this meant she had to work harder to prove herself, but says that this attitude towards work has been the driver for her success.

“I cannot pinpoint one key moment that accelerated my career – it’s been a sequence of hard work, right choices and great mentors over the years, giving me endless opportunities, that have brought me to this point.”

Asked about her favourite project, Neethling is loath to choose just one, saying that all of them have given her an opportunity to grow and learn. However, she cites continuing work with one client as of special importance to her.

“If I had to, I would have to mention a client rather than one specific project: Boschendal. It is a wine estate in Franschhoek and we have been involved in all projects on the farm since 2018.”

She says the client’s commitment to sustainability has broadened her perspective in ways she has been able to apply to other projects.

This focus on ongoing personal development is at the core of Neethling’s ethos, both professionally and personally, and makes it clear that she is determined to continue growing as a leader within the industry

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