What do you choose to challenge?

Categories: Blog

It is very flattering to be introduced as ‘one of the best and well-connected women in construction today’. Especially if that introduction is from my good friend, Liz Male, a woman who I also consider a well-connected and impressive influencer in the industry.

It was a pleasure to be interviewed by Liz as part of her ‘LMC Meets’ interviews, a series launched by Liz’s consulting company, supporting Women in Construction week and International Women’s Day 2021. Liz and I are both passionate about improving diversity in the construction sector and transforming it to create an industry that we can all be proud of. The series aims to showcase some amazing women, give insight into how they got to where they are and highlight some of the actions required to bring about the required transformation.

Just to give some background on my myself, I have been in the sector for 25 years now and my career has spanned a wide range of roles and responsibilities allowing me to acquire a variety of skills which has led me to my current position at the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA). It may seem that I ended up in this job rather by chance as my background is in Science, Engineering and manufacturing. However, during my career I have worked in operations, project leadership, research and development, technical sales, quality management, and of course advocacy. These roles have given me a good understanding of how manufacturing and the construction sector functions.

Around 10 years ago I was seconded to work with the Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change to assist in the development of the Green Deal policy. Although I am acutely aware that the policy was never the success it was hoped to be (to say the least), it was a brilliant opportunity and turning point for my career. I came out of the role with a good understanding of retrofit and energy efficiency and this exposure to shaping policy opened doors for me. It also turned out that I was actually quite good at advocacy and the culmination of these experiences has led me to, 10 years later, leading a trade association in a position that I originally knew nothing about!

So, what do I do now in the SEA? The SEA is a trade association that represents its members and advocates on their behalf to ensure that all buildings are fit for the future, meaning they are energy efficient, net-zero carbon, warm and healthy. We have an exciting vision and aim to help deliver policies that will transform the construction sector. At the moment, we are more reactive than we would like to be. However, this is just a reflection on how busy this past year has been for policy change and development and this is not going to slow down as that reducing carbon emissions is back as a priority with the Government. I am predicting another very busy year for policy change relating to buildings and the low carbon agenda and it is our role at the SEA to shape it to ensure that it has been well thought out and gives the industry the long-term certainty that it needs for investment.

At the end of the interview Liz asked me if I could choose just one idea that would make a lasting difference, what would it be?

Representing the views of all the SEA members can be slightly different to just speaking my own mind. Therefore, I cheated slightly and gave Liz two answers.

Regarding the members of the SEA, I said that their collective voice would want me to advocate for ensuring that all future policy is designed to be long term and joined up. If we want buildings to be low carbon and energy efficient then we need a clear roadmap that outlines the policies and steps along the way, where the policies work harmoniously together.

However, from my personal point of view, I would say that I want to see policymakers putting health and well-being at the heart of all decisions. The Government and industry have made major strides in physical safety across the construction sector over the years, however physical and mental wellbeing has been left behind. If we are making decisions about building policy we should consider, what is the health impact, how can we make these buildings better and design them to enhance well-being? Especially during this time of the global pandemic where practically all the population are spending the majority of their time indoors and are struggling with lower mental health, our home environments must be a place that elevate our well-being. The Government must recognise this importance in policy and regulation.

The final question was, what do I choose to challenge? Challenging the sector and the Government is what I do. However, for this particular challenge, I am going to challenge myself to help more women in construction. I will carry out more mentoring and reach out to other women in the industry who might need support. I am surrounded in my work by fantastic women. I am constantly astounded, but not surprised, by their capabilities and the fantastic work they produce. I would like to play a part in promoting this further and ensuring that there are no barriers to women thriving in the construction sector.

A blog by Jade Lewis.
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