Denise O’Leary will be speaking at the Women in Construction Seminar during The Big 5 in November. Denise is the Managing Director of Purpol Marketing Limited, she will be part of the panel discussion on "How can non-technical professions contribute to the success of the construction industry?"
What are the main challenges faced by women in construction today?
Women are able to bring many talents and skills into the construction sector, the challenge is that many women do not know the variety of careers that are on offer across the industry. Many skills such as organisational process management, logistics, design and marketing are a valuable addition to the industry but sadly the perception is often linked directly and associated to manual labour and trades.
There is common recognition that there are some outstanding issues, such as limited access to mentors or role models. Many will have suffered some sorts of discrimination, harassment, limited access to training or unfair performance evaluation, but others would have been treated as equals within a meritocracy.
There are very many women who love to see the transformation of a project from drawing board and BIM model to an actual structure, and their soft negotiation skills often make them exceptional project managers. However it is a mistake to categorise skills based on gender alone, there are a huge amount of personalities that all have different attributes and will therefore be best suited to different roles.
There can be a perception that it’s not an industry that is friendly to women, which can be due to issues such as the lack or role models, the scarcity of images depicting women at work in the industry and the stereotypes of male construction workers as unwelcoming to women. As women, we need to build networks to support each other within the sector and also ensure that they are part of diverse work groupings. Women often struggle to push themselves forward for recognition, which also can contribute to a lack of promotion opportunities and role models. If the construction industry suffers the broader difficulties in attracting women, this in turn affects how many progress up the chain.
I do hope soon that we will be able to focus on being people in construction and be passionate about the work we do in an industry that we love – but we also need to recognise where we are and what we can do to encourage a diverse working population. For now, we need to promote women in construction in order to drive the change.
Please share your experience as a woman in construction and how things changed in Dubai?
I had a wonderful experience at the Big 5 in 2017 when I was speaking on How to Win that Construction bid, and I was thrilled that so many people from both the UAE and wider afield came to talk to me about their company and how they are embracing marketing principles so that when they pitch for projects they are understanding client needs.
I really love marketing strategy and being able to apply this to all areas of the construction supply chain as well as manufacturing businesses is very fulfilling. I’m still learning every day, after 25+ years within both manufacturing and construction and running my own business for the last 5 years has given me even greater perspective which makes for a valuable asset to share as a consultant.
I have found the whole industry in Dubai to be very welcoming and I look forward to working with many organisations, and building my network of connections. The UAE is very forward thinking in embracing new technology and ways of working – I have had some great discussions on both online learning and also the ability to provide knowledge from different sectors which can transform business thinking. Companies who do engage with a wider talent pool and take on board new ideas and ways of thinking are better equipped to capitalise on innovations within the industry.
What actions do you encourage to empower women in the field?
Whilst the Construction sector has long known it has a problem with women being represented at many levels and across broad fields of expertise, the problem remains. The moral argument for equality is obvious and often detailed, but the commercial business case has also been made. A recent report by McKinsey showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Diversity = greater profit!
I am keen to encourage as many women as want to be considered into the industry, I speak at a broad range of business events, and provide internships and work experience programmes so that real life experience can be gained. I post videos across our social media channels and engage in mentoring to assist with the development of clarity – all of these elements assist in building empowerment as education provides a choice. Skills development and ongoing learning are essential and should be encouraged.
Recognising achievement is key – such as the women acting as role models and champions for their companies that are honoured within Women in Construction awards.
The empowerment also comes through opportunity to advance and progress, embracing those operations and technical skills, as well as managerial and leadership knowledge. Female graduates entering the construction profession also bring highly desirable digital skillsets, helping the industry as it seeks to develop and embed new technologies.
Women who achieve success do not usually focus on their gender. They are career-driven and thus prefer to speak about hard work and dedication, qualifications and the real value they deliver. As flag bearers in the industry, they are positive in sharing their experiences and knowledge and actively seek to sponsor the next generation of construction professionals. It is important that everyone can help to move another’s career forward.
So it is the duty of all to be a cheerleader for other amazing women within their own companies! Congratulate all the women that have made great achievements and a valuable contribution so that the infectious positive energy continues to radiate. When amazing women and men empower others they spark the next generation of innovation in our growing and changing world of construction.
What advice would you give to a young woman who is entering the industry?
Look at the variety of opportunities, and understand how you as an individual with your own skills sets can provide great value – and don’t be afraid to quantify these.
From engineering and design to project management and trades; new and ever changing technology will continue to introduce additional fields of study and new career options for both young and young at heart women and men of various backgrounds.
Finding a mentor or several will also help – understanding what role models have achieved can make what seems impossible a reality. Many more mature ladies are delighted to generously share their experiences and really want to encourage and inspire the next generation of women in construction and show them what is possible.
Be good at what you do – don’t let gender be a distraction! Take all the opportunities for education including seminars, workshops and expos as well as online learning. Really embrace ongoing training, and build a community of supporters who will cheer you on and also share any disappointments so you can recover quickly.
The best advert to your competence is the skills and how you apply them – when you do good work, you’re equal. There is also the reality that you may still be a minority, so try not to be overly sensitive; you will have to pick and choose your battles.
The best way to gain experience is to try out a few roles – ask around, take internships and work placements, get to know what’s involved, and then make informed decisions.
Who are the right people to attend your talk at The Big 5?
Everyone is welcome – it will be a very dynamic and inclusive panel session where I will be talking about both marketing and bid writing. It will be of particular interest to those involved in business development, bids and marketing, but also to broader commercial and sales functions. I am really keen to discuss the importance of marketing to construction companies, using benefits led messaging to put the client at the centre of communications activity.
I am also keen to discuss the power of internships to build the talent pipeline, and how to engage with micro businesses to build diversity in the construction supply chain. I will talk about my company experience – we are quite unusual in that we are a home based business with all staff working remotely and we have done the same for the internships. Technology and trust play a huge part but I will also share the stories of learning and what the interns have gained from the process.
On the broad subject of marketing within construction I will share the examples of how marketing principles have enabled companies we have worked with to leverage more profit within a bid – a higher quality score will generate a tipping point to increased project profitability. I will also talk about social value and how a well marketed bid that we wrote saved a near 100 year old company in the UK. I will share marketing insights to help increase revenues and leverage greater customer satisfaction. Within this I will place emphasis on the importance of strategy and knowing your market, and of targeted segmentation.
How does it benefit them to know about your topic?
The benefit of my speech with the panel discussion will be to show the importance of marketing skills to get to the heart of what matters to the client – when you deliver this and they are satisfied, they will want to engage with your organisation again!
I will share tips from out 95% bid success record which means that we treat each bid as a bespoke marketing campaign.
I will also share practical examples of how internships can provide a great benefit to the talent pipeline regardless of the size of your business and how being a mentor provides as much of a benefit for the coach as it does for the mentee!
I am really looking forward to returning to the Big 5 again this year and making lots of new connections as well as reestablishing previous relationships.
About Denise O’Leary -
Denise O’Leary is the founder and owner Purpol Marketing and is a board level Marketing Director who has maintained her ongoing accreditation as a Chartered Marketer with the Chartered Institute of Marketing every year since 2005. She has just been awarded Best Business Woman in in Marketing and PR and holds both a Master’s Degree specialising in Marketing with Business Strategy and a First Class Honours Bachelors’ Degree in Business Administration. As well as her academic credentials, she has 20+ years of marketing experience in demanding business environments, within the Construction and manufacturing sectors.
Purpol Marketing are bid writing and marketing strategy experts holding an impressive 95% win rate and Denise is an experienced keynote speaker who engages with the UK government to share knowledge on how businesses can realise their potential and win critical bids as well as marketing their brands to win business. She is speaking at the Big5 to showcase how effective marketing principles are key to construction companies in order to deliver values led messaging to the benefit of all clients.
Denise and her team measures business success by how much her clients win.
You can hear more from Denise O’Leary on "How can non-technical professions contribute to the success of the construction industry?" at the Women in Construction Seminar on 28th November, 12:55 - 13:40.