LHC Design Joins forces with South West Women in Construction

Despite strides made in recent years, it’s no secret that Construction remains a male-dominated industry. For almost a decade, as a counterbalance to provide support and a route for positive change, LHC has been involved with Southwest Women in Construction (SWWIC),

This year SWWIC introduced company membership and we are delighted to say we have chosen this route. We are proud to be able to give all our female team members the opportunity to benefit from this flourishing community.

The organization seeks to empower women in the Southwest from any discipline, trade or organisation involved in construction. We are excited to be joining a diverse and growing network of like-minded professionals who are passionate about building successful futures for themselves and inspiring others through shared knowledge, networks, and experience – let’s get ready to roll up our sleeves together!

Our director, Glayne Price, was chair of SWWIC for 6 years before stepping down 18 months ago. However, she continues to believe in the benefits of this female networking group and remains in an advisory capacity on the committee. In addition, one of our senior project architects, Christina Channing, has been a member of SWWIC for several years. She joined the committee about 4 years ago and is the current treasurer having taken on the role last year.

The UK construction industry employs nearly 3 million people; women make up only 14% of that workforce and for the last quarter of 2022 specifically, the office of national statistics shows only 321,000 women employed in the construction sector. Of those, according to online sources about 87% are limited to desk, design and secretarial roles. Only 1-2% working on-site and in the trades are women!

Christina was a guest speaker at a recent event hosted by Plymouth University in partnership with CIOB, on “Underrepresented Groups in Construction” which aimed to address the disheartening statistics above. She explored SWWIC’s aims, how they started and the impact they have made.

We caught up with Christina following her presentation to gain fresh insight into the organisation…

South West Women in Construction is a voluntary organisation which promotes and supports women working in the construction industry. We have been operating for over 20 years, and in that time we have had a significant impact on the local industry.

The founders were a group of ladies including Thelma Sorensen OBE and Lucy George-Foster. When we began, membership hovered around 20 members, today it has risen to over 200! Our members include architects, trades, contractors, engineers, interior designers, ecologists, technologists, surveyors, and marketers.

One of our key goals is to provide networking and professional development opportunities for women in the construction industry. Through events, workshops, and other activities, we help women to connect with one another. We provide the opportunity to share knowledge and experience and build skills and credentials.

We actively take part in career fairs and school visits to encourage young girls to enter the sector and pursue STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics), supporting them in continuing to break down barriers and redress the balance.

Although we are a female-led organisation and our membership is female only – at least for now, (this has been a matter for debate recently) – we do encourage everyone to join us at our events, whatever their gender.

SWWIC also works to raise awareness about the important contributions that women make in the construction industry. This includes highlighting the achievements of female professionals in the field, as well as advocating for policies and practices that support gender diversity and inclusion.

In 2014 our then Chair – Lucy George-Foster and Committee Members Kate Mills and Cathryn Bishop represented SWWIC at the launch of the Smith Institutes report and the debate on ‘Women in construction: Time to think differently?’ at the Houses of Parliament. Despite many initiatives by the government and the construction industry, it was identified that large numbers of highly qualified women leave the construction sector early and never return. This outflow of skilled women, combined with the extremely low numbers of women choosing construction, was and is a lost opportunity and an ongoing cost to the economy.

The event considered both the challenges and best practices and sought to raise awareness among employers, policymakers, politicians, and the media, focusing on what needs to change to encourage more women to enter Construction.

In 2020 SWWIC was awarded the ‘John Laurence Special Contribution Award’ at the Mitchelmore’s Property Awards, in recognition of our support, dedication and the positive change created in the construction industry. This was a joint award with our then Chairman – Glayne Price, who was recognised for not only bringing highly successful projects to fruition but also for helping to shape the sector.

The membership and events fees cover costs (such as our website) but the majority is used to fund apprenticeship bursaries for professions and trades. We also provide support for two local charities nominated by our members every two years. This year we are supporting Cornwall Air Ambulance and Children’s Hospice Southwest.

Overall, the impact of SWWIC on the local construction industry has been positive and far-reaching. By providing opportunities for women to connect and grow professionally, our organization has helped to break down barriers and promote greater gender diversity within the industry. This, in turn, has led to more innovative ideas, new perspectives, and better outcomes on construction projects throughout the region.

We spend so much of our time inside buildings and the built environment… being involved in the construction sector is a rare opportunity to make lasting improvements to people’s lives. Women play an essential role in designing and constructing quality spaces for communities, yet their presence in the construction industry remains low – this needs to change!

Our company membership continues our commitment to paving the way for progress by promoting diversity within our teams, resulting not only in better buildings but healthier environments that can be enjoyed by all.