As the world has become more climate aware, sustainability is now a key focus for many industries, particularly construction. Addressing the planetary impact of our built environment, and the materials and processes used to create it, is quickly finding itself commonplace, with many businesses looking at how they can contribute to the cause. However, if we want to create a truly sustainable industry, we must also think about the people working within it.
The issues of sustainability and gender equality have always been closely linked. As UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 explains, “providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large”. Who better to speak to about this idea than our Divisional Sustainability Manager, Lizzie Young? We sat down with her to find out how she progressed to her new role and get her insights on gender parity within the construction industry.
Lizzie Young – Divisional Sustainability Manager
What was your career path into your current role and what inspired you to go for it?
I’m so passionate about the power of individual responsibility and was lucky enough to have some fantastic lecturers at university who made me very interested in the intersections between people, planet and business. Seeing there was a huge opportunity for positive impact in the private sector, I applied for a job at Kingspan and took on the CSR report, Green Guide ratings and some other environmental certification. After a few years at Kingspan, I went on to an engagement role in Ofwat, a non-ministerial government department regulating private businesses. I loved being part of the internal workings of the civil service, learning about policy creation, balancing stakeholders interests and walking the line between private and public sector for the greater public good and it opened my eyes again to the scale of issues that private business face in light of things like the climate crisis. Serendipitously, Bianca reached out to me trying to grow Kingspan’s sustainability team and I’ve been happily in this role for six months now. It’s such a great time to be building momentum in the industry and that’s what inspired me to take the leap and come back.
How has the position of women changed within construction over your time/understanding?
I think the outlook has become more positive in the past four years I have known the industry, and I think Kingspan is good at enabling people to excel, regardless of gender. A great example being our Global Heads of Sustainability, Marketing, and Digital and Brand who are all fantastic leaders and the opportunity to work with these women was a big thing that attracted me back into the business. At an industry level, we have a way to go but it’s symptomatic of decades of reinforced gender norms at school age, which has changed so much even in the last decade. I’m really optimistic for the future of the sector and I think the industry is reaping the benefits of more diversity in traditionally male dominated departments like R&D, engineering and sales.
What advantages would gender equality bring to the industry?
The construction sector has an impact on society as a whole and to have a seat at the table means a built environment that works better for everyone. Diversity of thought is the biggest enabler of innovation and gender balance is one of the ways I think the industry can progress. Why should business care about this? The better job I have, the more of an engaged citizen I am. The better designed a building is to suit my needs, the more productive I am. The easier it is for me to access something, the more likely I am to use it. It’s all about representation at the beginning stages of every chain so the outcomes work better for all.
What advice would you give to a woman looking to start a career in your industry?
Follow your passion! Build a great network and get stuck in. Some advice for those embarking at the very beginning of your career from a brilliant former boss said you’re not in the meeting until you’ve spoken, introduce yourself and reinforce you’re because your input is of value to the business.
Who inspires you?
Anyone passionate about a good cause– driven people inspire me to be driven. Excellent examples are AOC, my female friends, my boss and others I have worked with in the past.