Inspiring Women in Construction and Engineering


Laing O’Rourke has become the first company to adopt the newly revised Inspiring Women in Construction and Engineering Pledge, committing the UK business to drive change within the organisation and support initiatives to create a more inclusive industry.

Sister publications Construction News and New Civil Engineer announced that they are joining forces to champion the role of women in construction and engineering, and the two publications are marking International Women's Day today (8 March), with news of their collaboration, called Inspiring Women in Construction and Engineering. The Pledge, which forms a critical part of the partnership is a voluntary code of practice that companies adopt to signal their support for women in the industry, and to take positive steps to further that goal.

Laing O’Rourke is the first to adopt the Pledge as a joint CN and NCE initiative, which commits the company to:

  • Attract, develop, and promote more women in the company and industry, and do this in a fair way;
  • Close its Gender Pay Gap;
  • Champion and recognise the achievements of women;
  • Work collaboratively to create an environment that welcomes and helps retain women.

Speaking about the announcement, Rae Avatar Barnett, Laing O’Rourke’s Head of People in the Europe Hub referenced the company’s gender-based sustainability target, made in April of last year by saying:

“Laing O’Rourke has set a target to ensure the number of men and women employed in its international staff are equal by 2033, with additional gender-focused initiatives being developed to improve representation among frontline construction workers. The targets are ambitious. Currently, 25% of our global colleagues are female; with a very low percentage of tradeswomen and female technicians working on site. You can see the challenge.

“The Inspiring Women in Construction and Engineering Pledge provides us with the framework to spearhead change, building on progress we’ve made in recent years. The public pledge quite rightly holds us to account, and it gives assurance to our own people, potential recruits, clients and partners that we’re serious about breaking down bias and creating a gender equal workplace.

“While our own business will set out plans with measurable targets, the lack of diversity is industry-wide and we look forward to working in collaboration with other Pledge partners to face up to the everyday challenges and come up with solutions that will attract, develop and retain more women in construction.”

Since launching its 50/50 target, Laing O’Rourke’s Europe Hub has reported progress in key areas, including:

  • A strengthened commitment to diversity through its funding arrangements with HSBC which incentivises or penalises the company depending on its progress against key sustainability metrics; including increasing the number of senior women in project delivery, which in the UK, currently stands at 7.74%.
    • The topic of attracting women into project delivery roles was one touched upon during a staff webinar held last year. In a follow up article Joanna Vezey, Technical Director for the Europe Hub provided an insight into how she worked with the company’s recruitment specialists to spearhead a new approach to improved diversity throughout her team.
  • Growth within its employee-led Gender subcommittee. Launched 18 months ago, the subcommittee has 81 active members, including an increasing number of male allies keen to add their voices to the conversation. The group also has 435 subscribers to its internal online community. The committee captures the voices and views of women, influencing and supporting change within the business.
  • New approaches to recruitment that brought about a 9% increase in female new hires during 2021 (compared to 2020).
  • Improved gender diversity in its early talent programmes, through a concentrated effort to attract and recruit more female candidates.
    • The 2021 graduate intake was 56% male, 44% female. Summer and Industrial Placements were 50:50 and the Professional Apprentice intake, 45% female.
    • Despite concerted efforts to attract females into its Trade and Technical Apprenticeships the 2021 cohort remained 91% male. Undeterred, this year the organisation has joined forces with Women into Construction and will adopt attraction and recruitment methods piloted on its Tideway project to inspire females into its Trade and Technical Apprenticeship programme, with applications opening later this month.
  • The company has also opened up ‘safe space’ sessions for women in its early talent population, providing the opportunity to share experiences, celebrate achievements and tackle areas of concern in a supportive environment.
  • The network is also being extended to its tradeswomen and female technician community. Mirroring a wider industry challenge, just 2% of Laing O’Rourke’s directly employed workforce in the UK is female and the population can have specific needs and challenges. A support network is being established and run at grass-roots level, with executive sponsorship.

Martin Staehr, executive sponsor of Laing O’Rourke’s Gender subcommittee and of the newly formed network for tradeswomen and female technicians said: “We are committed to creating a welcoming workplace that attracts, develops and retains women. Since taking up the role of executive sponsor of the Gender subcommittee I have been heartened by progress made while fully appreciating that our business and wider society has a distance to go to improve the everyday experiences that women encounter in the workplace. I am determined to play my part in accelerating change, recognising and tackling bias where it exists.”