Accelerating female leadership in the construction industry 

Kate explains about our Women’s Leadership Development Programme.

Monday 8 March marks International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in our society, raise awareness against bias and promote greater equality in the workplace. Kate Jansen, director of learning and development, explains our CITB-backed Women’ s Leadership Development Programme, designed to increase the number of women within the most senior positions in construction.

Research from GoConstruct indicates that women make up around 14% of construction industry professionals. However, with awareness growing of the huge opportunities construction provides for a successful and lucrative career, the organisation is encouraged that 37% of new entrants into the industry that come from higher education are women.

While these statistics are heartening, I believe our industry needs to accelerate faster towards gender parity. At Willmott Dixon, we aim to achieve a 50/50 gender split across the group by 2030. However, this won’t happen by itself. Concerted action is needed to meet this challenging, sector-leading aim.

To help us progress, in 2019, as part of our Gender Diversity strategy, we bought together a focus group comprised of our female leaders to brainstorm what they could do to support the company to improve gender diversity. Through this, we created a programme to develop gateways for women into the construction industry and once there, support the progress of high potential women into leadership positions. The rationale is clear: by empowering future female leaders, we will advance the business with an invaluable balance of behaviours, perspectives and insights.

Our drive for equality has attracted interest from across the industry sector and in 2020 we successfully applied for £54k of CITB funding to help us develop a pilot programme to create a new generation of female leaders.

To be led by our Interiors business, the 12-month programme will be delivered to 17 high-potential female leaders from Willmott Dixon and our supply chain partners. Activities will incorporate a blend of classroom style learning delivered by Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, alongside an internally led development programme, including:

  • Dedicated mentoring from Willmott Dixon directors and other senior figures in the business
  • Opportunities to gain insight and experiences through shadowing senior management and attending strategic meetings, including those at board level
  • Opportunities to participate in task teams and project groups across different business disciplines, further enhancing cross-sector skills
  • The building of a strong alumni of exceptional female leaders to mentor those entering the industry.

Alongside Cambridge Judge Business School, throughout the programme we will be working closely with CITB, sharing learning and best practice to benefit the industry for years to come.

Dawn Hillier, Head of Standards and Qualifications Strategy at CITB commented on the programme:

“We’re delighted to be supporting the Women’s Leadership Development Programme, which focuses in on a key benefit of influencing organisational culture through leadership and management training. The training delivered as part of the programme will provide much needed support for new and existing female employees to develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to be successful in senior management roles within the company.”

Following the launch event, held at the end of February, our cohort was full of enthusiasm ahead of the programme:



By the end of the programme, our cohort will feel more supported in their professional development. Further success criteria include seeing an increase in female successors, promotions, and the ratio of female leaders at senior management levels and in board positions, as well as improving the retention of high-potential women within the construction industry.

We are extremely proud of the programme and our partnership with CITB. I am confident it will provide an excellent springboard for many of our rising female stars to achieve the very highest positions of leadership and, in the process, become important role models who will inspire even more women to choose construction, and Willmott Dixon, for a career of a lifetime.