Jenny Sawyer has worked at Lendlease for 23 years since she joined its undergraduate scheme as a quantity surveyor. Over the years she has worked in risk, project management, commercial management, client relationship management and run a non-profit linked to the company. She says the variety of roles is part of the reason why she has stayed.
Jenny works flexibly. When she had her first child just over five years ago she returned on the same pattern she works now – full time with flexi hours. She comes in early and leaves early. However, eight months after she returned from maternity leave the family moved to Singapore so she could work on a large office tower project there. Her husband was a stay at home dad at this point which meant Jenny did not have to worry about the hours she worked. The family moved back when she was 36 weeks pregnant with her second child.
Being open about flex
Jenny says flexible working has become more established in the years between her first and second child and she is now also able to work from home on Fridays if she needs to. Whereas with her first child she felt guilty about her flexible work pattern and that she had to keep it secret and arrange childcare if someone booked a meeting in the late afternoon, she is now able to be much more open about the hours she works. “Being open about it makes it easier for other people to get on board with it. Everyone knows I won’t be in the office after 4pm, but that I will be there at 7.30am. People are more accepting of my flexi-time as they see me getting the job done,” she says.
While many of the people in her team are young and don’t have family responsibilities, there are now others who work flexibly, including one male team member who works similar hours to Jenny in order to pick up his children, and a number of men have taken Shared Parental Leave. Jenny doesn’t, however, know many people in other construction companies who have flexible working and mentions one female construction manager who turned down a job with another company to come to Lendlease.
Jenny is based wholly on site and she is open with clients about her hours. “When I explain my situation they accept it and I have always delivered on the objectives,” she says, adding that clients are also more accepting of flexible working these days and interested in working with companies which are more diverse. “The construction industry knows it needs to change and that it needs more women, but it has been saying this since I started work. Progress has been very slow, but there are positive signs,” says Jenny.
Change is coming
She thinks changes in how the industry operates, such as the move to more pre-fabrication and more offsite delivery, will deliver the biggest wins for gender diversity. “Pre-fabrication will open up more opportunities to women as employees can mostly travel to the same place every day and work in a nicer physical environment,” she says.
For now, she feels there is more need for flexible working and also for doing more to change the image of construction among children. That means construction firms doing outreach in schools and showing all the different jobs available in the industry. “Kids need to understand that it is not just about Bob the Builder” she says. “Work in the industry can align with a variety of interests from drawing, languages due to travel opportunities, sciences and maths to geography and so on. There are really exciting roles in the industry that people are not aware of, including community liaison and planning, project management, quantity surveying and environmental management. It is not just about standing around in muddy boots.”
She adds: “I was involved in building the London Olympics and other amazing projects. I am able to point out the buildings I have helped construct to my children. How exciting is that?”