Analysis

Q&A: Vicki Reynolds - Why women still face challenges working in the digital world

3 March 2020

Vicki Reynolds, head of digital at i3PT Certification and UK lead of Women in BIM discusses the importance of BIM in digital construction and raising awareness of women in the industry.

What are the success stories of BIM – what are people getting out of it?

Adoption of these new digital processes has been varied across the industry, with some companies embracing the shift, while others are still in the infancy of their digital journey. But we’re really starting to see some solid evidence now of BIM providing clearer insight, better communication and more efficient decision-making across complex projects in a way that would be extremely hard to achieve using traditional methods.

At industry events there are numerous case studies being presented that document how digital construction is leading to better options testing, less wastage on site, better supply chain management and collaboration, and greater engagement from young people considering construction as an exciting career choice. This is echoed by the increasing amount of time and space that is being given to digital construction at wider industry events.

Vicki Reynolds is the chair of day two of the Digital Centre Stage at Futurebuild 2020 (03-05 March at ExCel London)

Specifically, at a recent Women in BIM event we had a case study presentation delivered by Francesca Taglieri of Grimshaw, who detailed the huge benefits in collaboration and design management that came from using BIM on the Heathrow Expansion project, and contractors and design teams are now actively celebrating their digital successes with the industry in a bid to assure clients of their efficiency and change management capabilities, and ultimately win more work.

The Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) is continually assessing the development of BIM and digital construction across the industry and has a range of resources on its website which clearly define positive outcomes, and BIM+ itself is full of incredible stories and features that document how BIM is improving the way we work.

Do women in BIM face any particular challenges?

The Women in BIM group itself gets a phenomenal amount of backing from individuals, organisations and the industry in general, and we are exceptionally grateful, especially to our corporate sponsors, Glider BIM and CertCentral, and to the UK BIM Alliance for its ongoing support.

Our biggest challenge now is finding time to do everything that we want to!

For individual women in the industry though, the story is not always as positive. The first challenge is often that there are still very few of us sat at the table, and that means that you can feel far more visible and vulnerable. If you’re new to an industry and also sense that you are the odd one out, it can be intimidating – it’s easy to feel as though you simply don’t belong there or worse, that you aren’t welcome.

I have spoken to young women in schools and colleges who could potentially have great careers in construction, but the idea of being in such a minority is off-putting for them. This feeling can then be elevated even further for BAME, transgender, culturally diverse women, or women with disabilities.

The first challenge is often that there are still very few of us sat at the table, and that means that you can feel far more visible and vulnerable. If you’re new to an industry and also sense that you are the odd one out, it can be intimidating.– Vicki Reynolds, i3PT Certification

Then, once women have entered the industry there’s still a well-documented gender pay gap and glass ceiling – women still aren’t reaching as many senior or executive positions as men, and in the instances where they are they can still feel a huge amount of pressure to prove that they weren’t just a “diversity hire”. The strain of constantly feeling the need to prove your worth can be exhausting.

That’s why Women in BIM aims to create a supportive community for women to thrive, share and test ideas. A few of our members delivered their first industry presentations at our networking events, in safe and friendly environments, and that success gave them the confidence to put themselves forward for bigger challenges. 

Is the group growing?

The group is growing by the day. We were originally established in London in 2013 by Rebecca De Cicco with just a handful of women, and in only seven years we’ve grown to almost 1,000 registered members covering 32 countries, with 28 regional leads and eight core team members.

Last year we partnered with our first corporate sponsor, and for 2020 we have two sponsors. These sponsorships provide us with critical financial support to keep our website and database up to date, create and collate helpful content, and communicate and share information and opportunities with our members. It has also given us the resource to set up our exciting new Mentor Scheme, which people can read more about and sign up to be a part of at www.womeninbim.org.

As long as there is a need within the industry and we can get the right support, we will continue to grow our database and create bigger and better events and initiatives.

Why does BIM struggle to attract women and what’s happening to change that?

The BIM industry struggles to attract women because the roles can be difficult to define, and the definitions that we do have are constantly changing. Looking in to an industry and seeing very few role models that look like you or share your background experiences, then on top of that being unsure about what a role will actually entail can be very unappealing.

Plus, for many years BIM leads have had the difficult task of trying to effect change in a stubborn environment, and when you already feel like the odd one out it can be easier to stick to the path of least resistance rather than rocking the boat by trying to implement new processes or technology.

Luckily this is changing, and the industry is starting to see the benefits of BIM, bringing more respect to the role. Groups like Women in BIM are also doing more to create networks for support, and organisations are targeting wider groups when they are looking to recruit, taking on board wider skill sets, and thinking more about the welfare and needs of their employees.

The industry itself is becoming more desirable for everyone, not just women, which is a critical step in the right direction if we want to attract the very best talent.