At Acorn Property Group we support women in the construction industry – here we chat to Denise Fleming on her role and career path, how she feels about being a woman in an industry that is still very male dominated and her top tips for progression.
Can you tell us a little more about you – your background and career path to your current role?
My role currently is Project Manager for Acorn Blue, the Cornish region of Acorn Property Group.
I started my career in Civil Engineering – I worked for the Highways Department of Cornwall Council for 7 years with a 2-year break where I went to work as a Highways and Drainage Engineer for a Civil Engineering company.
I have worked for Acorn for 9 years and initially started off as a Construction Facilitator helping the construction team with orders, utility searches and applications, planning history information and generally assisting the Construction Director and Project Managers. I was then asked if I would help with the aftercare procedures, logging defects and liaising with customers after they first move into their home. Following this, when the Finishing Foreman retired from Acorn, I was asked to take over alongside my existing aftercare role.
In 2017, I was asked if I would like to become a Project Manager – excited at this opportunity, I undertook a master’s degree in Construction Project Management. Since then, I have worked as a Project Manager at Acorn Blue working on the commercial unit and the several apartments at The Liner in Falmouth, getting the project to completion. I then moved onto The Courtyard at Duporth, which was unfortunately closed for eighteen months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but subsequently re-opened in January this year – I am currently finishing work here before moving onto an exciting new project called Arcady in Newlyn.
Can you describe what a typical day on site looks like?
A typical day on site is busy – when I’m not liaising with sub-contractors, clients, sales teams and the management team, I’m ordering materials and scheduling work, determining labour requirements for each part of the project and chasing the relevant parties for dates and information. I review the project everyday, which involves monitoring the progress and overcoming any problems that arise from a design or build perspective, as well as carrying out site inductions, toolbox talks and meetings.
Last but not least, I always ensure sure Health & Safety guidelines are followed and the relevant paperwork is in place.
It sounds like it’s a busy role, which I imagine can be challenging. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your role while working at The Courtyard and how did you overcome this?
The biggest challenges have been getting trades people back to work on site following Covid 19. There are limited companies in Cornwall so everyone is extremely busy, therefore demand is high and resources are stretched. There have also been challenges in sourcing materials and getting utility companies to provide their services.
The only way to overcome these issues is persistence – constantly chasing trades, utility companies and sourcing materials. Finding ways to work around any delays to bring forward other areas of the project to try to keep things moving along.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your role?
This most enjoyable part of my role is seeing the progress on site and knowing that all the effort and hard work is worth it when you can physically see the end result.
How does it feel to be a female in a typically male dominated role?
Whilst there are more and more women coming into construction, it’s still a very male dominated profession – especially on site. It would be great to see more women coming into the profession – many professional sectors in the industry are trying to address the issues around the gender pay gap and inequality, whilst supporting women to progress within the industry and introducing flexible working solutions. It’s especially encouraging that women who already work in construction are helping to share their own personal experiences, knowledge and advice on social media platforms to encourage more woman to get on board.
My own personal experience has at times been challenging as I don’t come from a trade background. Some people feel that you should have a trade background and work your way up as a Site Manager and then progress to be a Project Manager. I disagree, academically I am qualified, and every day is a learning day, obviously I don’t know everything but who does! I’m a quick learner and you work as a team on site and help each other – we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and everyone must start somewhere. Some days are more challenging than others, finding solutions and overcoming problems is all part of the job and that’s what I really enjoy.
What are your top tips for any other women wanting to get into the construction industry?
My top tips would be – do your research and speak to as many people as possible in the industry to gain an insight into what is involved. Look at all the different possibilities that there are in the construction industry, whether this is being a consultant or working as a trades person or going into management, there are so many different sectors so be open minded.
More and more companies are introducing flexible working patterns to help women with children work in construction, sometimes long hours are involved so that is something to be aware of.
All in all,
– Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice.
– Don’t think construction is just for men, it’s not.
– Make sure you get all the training and support you need.
– You will occasionally get negative comments, you need to be able to rise above it and ignore them and not be too sensitive.
Above all, be determined and don’t give up!
If you’re interested in joining Acorn Property Group, view our careers page here