Building and civil engineering – jobs for the boys?

Building and civil engineering – jobs for the boys?

8 March 2019
buildings CivilEngineering genderdiversity
Read the article

Women in the construction industry

The building and civil engineering (“BCE”) sector is both fascinating and tough, from design to construction to decommissioning. And it’s the same for both men and women, says Albane Levieux – Special Projects and Infrastructure Development Director at Assystem and a real workaholic. With over 25 years’ experience in the construction sector, Albane is still as enthusiastic as when she first started out, and she’s just as committed to standing up for her beliefs. In an environment that’s still male dominated, she’s a campaigner for equal career opportunities. Read on to find out more.

A woman’s career in the building and construction sector

Feminization and changing attitudes in the construction sector allow women to progressively establish themselves in a still very masculine environment. The stereotypes of “men’s trades” and “women’s trades” give rise to an important gender disparity. This is because it is required to be physically strong in the construction industry. Nevertheless, this is no longer a condition for working in construction. The tasks are much more mechanized and the construction equipment more adapted therefore more accessible to men as to women. Today, only 12% of workers in the BCE sector are women. It’s a low figure but it is rising, having gone from just 8% in the early nineties. That was when Albane Levieux began her career in the building industry, after being taken on by a large construction works company. Having graduated in Civil Engineering and Urban Planning from INSA Lyon, Albane put on her boots and hard-hat right away, going straight out to the front-line “When I was about 25, I was Works Co-ordinator for a building project, heading up a team of 150 people, nearly all men and of all nationalities”, she explains. “I have very good memories of that time, both professionally and personally. I learnt a lot. No one made fun of me and no-one questioned my ability to do my job. Yes, building sites are a tough environment. And yes, there are often raised voices. But being a woman is not a handicap. You just need to do your job well.” This initial experience taught Albane a collaborative management approach, gave her a good grasp of the challenges entailed in completing a project, and inspired her to get involved more upstream, right from the design phase. In 2001, on returning to work after four months’ maternity leave, she found her company in financial difficulties. So she and a colleague, Christophe Fournier, launched a new company that they called BATIR. Their company specialised in nuclear civil engineering – a sector that both Albane and Christophe knew like the back of their hands – as well as technical synthesis and subsequently BIM, their company grew rapidly. “For 15 years, I felt like Christophe’s alter-ego. Actually, I think he’s much more of a feminist than a lot of women”, she says. “However, it was sometimes difficult with certain clients. It was as if some of them felt awkward working with me. When that happened, I asked Christophe to take over. And sometimes it was the opposite. In practice, it doesn’t really matter. I think the important thing is for men and women to work together to get rid of pre-conceptions and change working habits. From an operations point of view and in terms of results, it’s highly effective!

Professional equality : Working with men rather than against them

Speaking without bitterness but not acceptingly, Albane explains that in the course of her career and even now, it can be tricky for a man with a high-powered job to work with his female alter-ego. And it’s often not even a conscious thing. “We live in a period when so much is being turned upside down – thousands of years of history. So we need to understand. I’ve said it often, but I’ll say it again, although the word feminism is sometimes over-used, it still means something, and for me it means working with men rather than against them. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for one of the most important statements in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to become reality, i.e. ‘All human beings are born free and equal’. All that’s being asked is for this precept to apply to women, who make up half of humankind. Nothing more, nothing less”. In this sector where we mainly find women in the administrative professions, there is still some effort to be made in terms of equality and responsibility, as noticed by Albane Levieux. In Albane’s view, the main problem isn’t pay inequality, which she’s never suffered herself, but unequal career opportunities. “I don’t think the BCE industry is more macho than any other sector or more difficult for a woman to work in. But as in any sector that includes technical professions, we sometimes have to justify why we’re in our job. All too often, when we take up a new post, we have to waste time proving that we have the skills to be able to express ourselves and make effective decisions and choices. When you add in maternity, a woman’s path to a particular job is often longer and more obstacle-ridden than a man’s. And that’s not how it should be.” For Albane, the key point is that women and men have complementary skills. In the same way as cultural diversity and different personalities and views, gender diversity is good for business. “Managers today have an extremely important role to play in breaking the glass ceiling. Because the way events are interpreted depends on their ecosystem. A decision by a committee wholly, or almost wholly, made up of men, will most likely be taken in good faith without any ulterior motive. But the way that decision is interpreted depends on the surrounding environment”, she explains.

When will be women mentors in the construction sector ?

Now, Albane is keen to move ahead and inspire future generations to work in a profession and an industry she loves. At 48, she’s still as passionate about her job as when she first started. Since BATIR was acquired by Assystem in 2016, Albane has taken on new responsibilities, becoming Special Projects and Infrastructure Development Director. In her new role, she loves working in collaboration with others and seeing major projects come to fruition, especially “in industries that are at the cutting edge of technology and for large-scale public infrastructure. Construction is somehow ancestral. We are literally creating places for living, working and communicating. There’s a real sense of purpose about the sector”, she states. So Albane recommends that anyone interested in the BCE sector – both men and women – should go for it. To help women find their legitimate place, not only in this sector but in the engineering industry as a whole, she recommends they join the networks that are sprouting everywhere today, both women-only and mixed. “All of the men in these networks, especially those with high-level posts, will tell you that they had mentors. I had mentors too – men who believed in me and have supported me throughout my career. But I didn’t have any women role models. I think that the sharing and exchange aspects of these new networks are motivating and inspiring, and at the end of the day, necessary to help current and future generations grow.”

Share :

Women in engineering

Something to say ?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Albane Levieux

External Contributor

Our vacancies

Learn more

Related articles

M.a.DI – The house in a box

More than half of the world’s population now live in cities and the proportion is set to increase in coming years. This has many different consequences, not least of which is the fact that it takes yo...

Smart cities: stop or more?

54% of our planet’s inhabitants currently live in towns or cities and by 2030, two thirds of the world’s population will be urban dwellers. This rising demography is proving a real test of...

Ecocapsule - The caravan of the future

When you see this 2.5-metre high egg-shaped structure, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a prototype survival pod for life on Mars. In fact, it’s intended for life on Earth, but not j...

Woodoo – WoodWhat ?

A young French engineer was helped by a secret agent to encrypt his computer and protect the material he’d invented, which is rot-proof, fire-resistant, strong enough to be used in the construction of...

"I've been offered the opportunity to move on to several positions"

Between France and the UK, Nicholas Morris is currently experiencing the daily challenge of developing Assystem’s business around the British EPR project, Hinkley Point C. “FascinatingR...

Will we still need engineers in the future?

The question is not as strange as it might seem. Given the phenomenal growth of digital technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, where does this leave the engineers of tomorrow? How will they...

No, I'm not a superhero

For ordinary people, when we talk about engineers, is the image of Steve Job, inventor of the first Macintosh and founder of a now trillionaire company, or Elon Musk, imagining alone the car new gener...

So what exactly is an engineer?

Engineer /ɛndʒɪˈnɪə/, derived from the Middle English “engineour” and from the Old French “engigneor” – a designer and constructor of fortifications and weapons. > A person ...

Commute, work, sleep ... Inside an engineer's head during a banal day

Builders of bridges or power plants, application developers, designers, project managers … But what exactly do all these engineers do? Between meetings, exchanges with the client, team managemen...

When I grow up, I want to be an engineer!

Engineering schools are still as popular as ever. Why? Do we really know what an engineer is? Their backgrounds? Their daily lives? To answer this, we met up with three of them to find out more about ...

NASA’s taking nuclear energy into space

The conquest of space is more than ever at the centre of public attention, with projects like SpaceX and The Stealth Space Company, but who better than NASA to fulfil this dream that has existed for t...

Big Data Automation

It’s no secret that data is the lifeblood of more and more companies. While it brings many benefits for those who use it wisely, it creates just as many constraints for those who don’t. Ma...

Saudi, land of oil… and engineers

In Saudi, being an engineer is more than any profession. With “Saudi Vision 2030” plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy, Saudi engineers are becoming a rare c...

Being a woman engineer in the land of the Corcovado mountain

Happiness seems to be the watchword in the home of samba and the caipirinha. But the cool and carefree image that Brazilians present to the world is juxtaposed against a very different reality. The re...

Engineers – Eternal apprentices?

From steam locomotives to high-speed trains powered by hydrogen, from manual calculators to super-computers, from a one-dimensional view of building sites to augmented reality, the objects designed by...

Electric cars and energy transition – is there a glitch?

At the end of 2018, only 200,000 electric and hybrid vehicles were registered in France out of a total automobile fleet of around 40 million. But questions are now being asked due to recent sharp incr...