Interview: Rebecca de Cicco – Bridging the gender gap

Rebecca de Cicco, founder of campaign group Women in BIM and director of BIM consultancy Digital Node, on breaching the gender divide, progress in Australia towards a Level 2 mandate and aligning BSI’s BIM Course with the BIM Learning Outcomes Framework.

Why did you set up Women in BIM?

There are very few women in the BIM space in construction, which is representative of general gender issues and a gender divide in construction. It has always been a passion of mine to ensure that we have a common platform to be able to discuss, reflect and review how BIM impacts on diversity in construction.

We have more than 200 members globally, and support mechanisms including BIM Regions in the UK and construction-related groups in the US and Australia. There is a core group of about 15 women who are part of an online discussion forum where women can discuss and network in an environment that promotes diversity.

Positive results so far include engagement by younger female professionals in construction and a strengthening social media presence.

What do you think of the BIM Regions initiative promising a 50:50 balance of men and women in the roles of regional “BIM Champions”?

I have worked closely with BIM Regions. This is a fantastic initiative to promote and grow knowledge of BIM and John Eynon, who helps manages the initiative, is a great thought leader who promotes the diversity discussion and openly discusses the Women in BIM agenda.

It is a great tool to influence the wider industry and focusing on diversity should provide a greater incentive for women to enhance their positions within the BIM community as well as  promote younger people to enter construction.

What should organisers of conferences, events and round tables do to increase female representation? 

There needs to be more focus on diversity among panels and speakers. Diversity comes in all shapes and forms, recently RIBA has supported our initiative and begun to include members of Women in BIM in many of its round table discussions. This should be encouraged and promoted throughout the wider global BIM space as a lack of female speakers around the world is a big issue. 

As a relatively new field, is BIM more open to women rising to the top than construction per se, or do the same issues apply?

I don’t believe that BIM is more open to women rising to the top, the same issues apply. However, as BIM supports collaborative relationships and working in new and differing ways I do believe having a varied and diverse industry will support this. In general, we need to be doing more to ensure women are retained in construction as the numbers are dropping rather than increasing.

Regarding Digital Node, what types of projects and issues are you consulting on?

Digital Node has clients across the world, including the UK, Canada and Australia. We focus on providing training, education and project support in a BIM context. We were recently appointed as the delivery partner by the BSI to support their BIM training across the UK and have met with them in the UK and Australia to grow the incentive.

We support universities, schools and educational partners in delivering training, provide mentoring and support their courses in a BIM context. Digital Node has also worked with small architectural practices, large contractors, clients and manufacturers.

What impact has the Level 2 mandate had on the industry?

The UK mandate has enforced a consistent approach and framework toward delivering a BIM solution and for this reason has been successful compared to other global initiatives, but we still have a way to go before it reaches the entire workforce. 

BIM generally has had a very positive effect by supporting the management of information deliverables to the client and creating a digitised construction industry, which has to be more efficient to help deliver to clients.

How will your clients be affected by the mandate?

Clients that approach us want to upskill and train and are therefore excited about the challenges around the mandate. They are positively affected by the BIM process and implementation drive as they can see the value and are therefore willing to learn.

What is BIM adoption like in Australia compared to here?

Australia has always been agile in regard to change, yet we are still stifled by the challenges that exist here regarding change management. Technically, BIM solutions in Australia are quite advanced, but the processes and requirements to deliver in a BIM context are varied and dependent on the client or supply chains, which generally adopt different standards depending on the context of their projects. 

What are the main issues people are struggling with?

A consistent approach and being able to practically apply the solutions outlined within the standards to the context of projects. This is why Digital Node is passionate about training suppliers relative to the work they undertake – BIM training for architects should be different compared to BIM for the owner. We are engrained in practices that have become somewhat outdated, so the biggest challenge is convincing people to work in a relatively different way.

Are there plans for a government mandate similar to the UK?

There are varied government discussions on BIM in Australia, some departments are interested in mandating a solution. For example, Infrastructure Australia released a report earlier this year recommending that BIM should be mandated for the design of large scale complex infrastructure projects.

Therefore, guidance and standards will be developed to support this. The BIM solution here is in its infancy yet it will continue to develop and require BIM-enabled solutions moving forward.

Regarding training, how much should businesses be investing if they want to develop capability in BIM (bearing in mind that a lot of training resources were scaled back during the recession)?

Training should not be an add on or an ad hoc development. The rapid rate of change regarding

generational differences, our expectations within the work force, the digitised community and expectations from younger generations all affect this.

Training strategies should be established by organisations looking at developing their BIM capability, then reviewed, maintained and assessed regularly.

Can you provide more details on the work Digital Node has been doing with the BSI to ensure the BSI BIM Course aligns with the BIM Task Group’s BIM Learning Outcomes Framework?

The BSI commissioned Digital Node to create a series of BIM courses in line with industry needs, expectations and growing knowledge requirements for BIM Level 2. It was our recommendation to ensure the courses are aligned to the BIM learning outcomes framework and our courses were written with this in mind.

The learning outcomes align to the BIM Task Group’s Level 2 knowledge requirements and should be adhered to by all those looking at developing BIM training solutions. The BSI and Digital Node partnered to ensure the courses are delivered as a globally recognised solution, with a strong supply chain of delivery partners, and in line with other BIM solutions such as the verification incentive that now exists.

As BIM supports collaborative relationships and working in new and differing ways I do believe having a varied and diverse industry will support this. In general, we need to be doing more to ensure women are retained in construction as the numbers are dropping rather than increasing.– Rebecca de Cicco

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