There is no doubt that the construction industry worldwide is changing rapidly through the advancements in technology now available. However, the industry faces a skills shortage that requires a new breed of technologically-savvy individuals to drive adoption and fill the gaps left by an ageing workforce.
We spoke to Rebecca De Cicco of Digital Node to understand how her career developed, the obstacles she’s faced as a woman in construction, and how the industry must change if we are to solve the skills crisis.
What led you to pursue a career in construction?
I’ve always been passionate, even as a young girl, about technology and construction. My father was involved in the supply chain side of delivery of construction, and as a result, he inspired me to look at the built environment and the landscape of buildings. This was the beginning of a route to explore new technologies and how we could create spaces; leading me to study Architecture.
In this time I was fascinated with the synergies between technology and design. The way we could create forms and design space using technology intrigued me and this I believe was the beginning of my BIM journey all those years ago. I loved how technology could be used to solve problems, and this led me to explore different avenues within my career which ultimately led me to start my own company, Conceptual Node. The evolvement of Conceptual Node to Digital Node came naturally later in my career and I now work with BIM and enabling technologies to support clients in how they design, build and operate their assets.
Did you feel unique as a woman entering the construction sector?
In some ways yes. Few women have the combined interests in construction and technology and when starting out this was very clear to me. Today, in industry this is still the case, particularly in senior leadership, and therefore I feel that we need to be drawing more young women into this sector to grow numbers for us to act as role models. This was one of the reasons I founded the Women in BIM initiative in 2012.
What barriers did you find, and how did you manage to overcome them?
I found some barriers presented themselves in my career when I rose to senior positions in the companies I worked for, primarily because there were fewer women in this space and I always felt that there were issues with micromanagement and unconscious bias.
In meetings, for instance, there would be a lack of eye contact that proved uncomfortable at times, and although this didn’t deter me, I felt it was a little uncomfortable. This is why it’s so important for women to break through into the senior positions, as only then will the culture improve if there are equal numbers of men and women in senior leadership.
Have you seen the perceptions of women change over the course of your career, or is unconscious bias still a significant obstacle?
It is improving, but there are still huge barriers when it comes to women in leadership in construction, and unconscious bias is not a ‘women-only’ issue. It exists for diverse cultures, backgrounds and sexuality.
The big problem is that traditionally construction has always been seen as the blue-collar, white male domain and therefore changing this perception is a huge yet vital mission. This will take many years, but we have come a long way and will continue to evolve.
You recently won the Women in Construction category at the Australian Construction Awards, but what did this mean to you?
For me, this was a massive achievement as everything I do in my career is for the love of what I do, rather than any financial reward or gain.
I have always been so passionate about being successful and making a difference; doing this for myself and my family.
For me, this award meant far more than anything because I personally had grown my business and my reputation in the UK and Australia over the course of the last 6 or so years. The award made me realise how much work I had achieved in building momentum for the Women in BIM movement and well as for Digital Node and having been acknowledged for this was extremely humbling for me.
Why did you begin the Women in BIM (WiB) movement?
WiB was founded in 2012, and for me, it was to address the low representation of women in BIM related roles. I found that I continued to attend events, be involved in speaking and discussing BIM re-education, and there were simply either none or very few women. This was apparent not only in the technology space but also in the high-level leadership positions.
The WiB initiative is a platform where we can discuss the challenges and benefits of the industry without judgement, and we have always sought the support of our male colleagues. In fact, we’ve received a great deal of encouragement from them as they too recognise that if we want a diverse and prosperous industry, we have to be inclusive.
What more can we do to encourage women into the sector in Australia?
The WiB movement partners with larger groups and events globally and therefore to raise awareness and draw visibility to the group is crucial if we are to reach out to women and girls who wish to enter the industry.
We should be engaging women in Australia to support their desires for a future in construction as our skills shortages are reaching critical levels. Why do we continue to ignore half the population who are perfectly capable of entering, and being successful in this sector? It just makes no sense to me.
We also need to address and join forces with existing diversity groups to grow the cause, and currently, WiB is looking for women in BIM related roles for the creation of a core team in ANZ. We are always interested in having people on board who are hungry for change!
What advice would you have for young people entering the industry?
Firstly that it is always important to follow your dreams!
Construction has changed and is changing rapidly. We need to acknowledge the effects of technology and how this can ultimately affect how we design, construct and manage our buildings and infrastructure assets.
It is also vitally important to understand that the way in which we work now in construction is entirely different from the way we previously worked. This means that our sector can be such an exciting and wonderful profession to be involved in and I hope to see many more bright, enthusiastic and intelligent people join us.