NAWIC National Conference, by Annie Clift

“On the 15th of November, I headed up to Manchester to join many other members at the Annual NAWIC Conference.

The conference was opened by the co-founder of the North West Branch, Loretta Lipworth and Chair of the National Committee Theresa Mohammed.

Following the opening remarks, our first speaker was Gretta Starks, a project manager at Mace. Gretta’s presentation did not follow the usual format for an event such as these. Instead, she spoke openly and honestly about her professional difficulties and struggles with mental health. Her refreshing talk was moving and clearly resonated with many of us in the audience.

Her advice was not to shy away from acknowledging that your career path will not always be an upward curve. We will all likely experience dips and downturns and by admitting and supporting each other we can break the taboo of mentioning when things are not going your way. When we are feeling low, we often want to shy away, but it is important to try where we can to continue to step outside our comfort zone and push ourselves in the way we would when we are feeling more confident in ourselves.

Our next speaker was Paul Weaver, Managing Director at Balfour Beatty. He went through the strategies the company is implementing to encourage more women into the industry. Women only make up 11% of the construction industry and only 2% work in manual jobs, so anything companies like Balfour Beatty can do to improve on these statistics is much needed. They have recently published a document on diversity and inclusion[1] in which they include an action plan to improve diversity in the workforce.


Both Paul and Gretta then joined Loretta to take questions from the audience. What followed was a lively and informative debate. Some of the key topics and takeaways included:

  • How we encourage more women into the industry – this focussed on education and improving the image of construction as a viable career option. We discussed ways we can approach schools, teachers and careers advisers to help them understand the multitude of career options available in our industry.
  • Work / Life balance – this can be a major challenge, not only for women entering the industry but those returning after having children or struggling to meet the demands of balancing a career and caring responsibilities. It is fantastic that many companies are understanding the need for better provisions for maternity and flexible working, but we should also recognise the need for these benefits to be extended to men. By focussing on women, we often forget that we need to give the opportunity for fathers and husbands to work flexibly and pick up some of the slack when it comes to home life and childcare commitments. Until we do so, these will always be seen as women’s burdens.
  • Taking responsibility for the supply chain – how far do companies go to ensure that their supply chains also offer opportunities for women? Is it enough to be doing your bit, if all your suppliers are not also taking positive steps?

The panel discussion was followed by an opportunity to grab a coffee and network with the attendees. Following this we were given a presentation by Anna Mason, Director of The Healthy Employee. The Healthy Employee was the sponsor for this years conference. They provide a nutrition and wellbeing program for companies. Their research showed the following improvements for employees working on site when following the program:

  • 17% slept better
  • 17% had more energy
  • 18% avoided the afternoon slump
  • 5% reported an increase in concentration
  • 20% had improved moods.

For the final session of the conference, the attendees split into groups to discuss their experiences of being members of NAWIC and other organisations. I was the only long-standing member of NAWIC in my group, but it was interesting to note the things that our group believes are important for member organisations and events:

  • Quality of handouts, attendees and good speakers – they all agreed that the conference was well organised and the quality of speakers was high.
  • Keeping membership affordable – anecdotally, attendees reported that often they are given a limit on either the cost or number of organisations they can join or events they can attend. They reported that it is great when membership is kept low and when there are options for student memberships. It was mentioned that it is good that NAWIC student membership applies to all events, not just those aimed at students.
  • A mix of morning, daytime and evening events make it easier to attend.
  • Consistency across regions
  • A good mix of industry professionals
  • Informal events – it was mentioned that by splitting attendees into groups with others they didn’t necessarily know, we were given a good opportunity to network.
  • Site visits for those in office-based roles.

The event closed with some final remarks and we made our way across the road for a glass of prosecco. This gave us an opportunity to chat in a less formal environment and enjoy the success of the day.”

Annie Clift is the Twitter Manager at NAWIC London and South East. you can reach her HERE

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(The images above were either taken by Annie or the national team both of whome we want to thank (see watermark))


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