Last month we attended the Opportunities4Women conference that was focused on career development for women who have studied STEM subjects and were working in associated industries such as construction, technology and engineering.
One of the key themes of the day was how to make the transition from graduate to business leader, and we were intrigued to hear about the challenges these women have faced working through the downturn and how their roles have developed as a result of the recession.
The most popular discussions centred on real-life experiences of juggling work, ambitions and family life. Sitting in a room and talking face-to-face – rather than the more usual practice of scrolling through updates on a smartphone – made a real difference.
The value of these discussions was obvious and the knowledge being imparted was the kind needed to help develop the leaders of tomorrow.
Networking and relationships vital
From our own experience of working through a recession, it has become clear that we must all take opportunities to network and build relationships seriously and take advantage of low-cost or free social networking sites, Twitter and other online resources.
“There is a risk of information overload, less human contact and, therefore, less actual face time with our business leaders”
The afternoons of long lunches that were so prevalent years ago are now a thing of the past.
This focus on using websites and live feeds to communicate rather than face-to-face meetings, drinks and lunches means there is less disruption to productivity during the working day, which must be good for employers.
However, it also means there is a risk of information overload, less human contact and, therefore, less actual face time with our business leaders.
Is human contact lacking?
It is also safe to say we have become more sophisticated and global with our service delivery to clients in the construction sector, but again that means that behind the scenes teams are spread across international offices and use email as the main form of communication.
For graduates and those developing their careers, this must be one of the drawbacks of modern working practices.
“We cannot escape the fact that personal contact is still key”
The key attributes business leaders exhibit, such as integrity, confidence and leadership, will be observed through a computer screen rather than first-hand on a day-to-day basis.
This means the demands on business leaders must continue to evolve. We expect our leaders to be competent in terms of the use of technology, but we also need them to be able to communicate to, mentor and lead a much wider audience using different and evolving forms of technology.
That said, we cannot escape the fact that personal contact is still key.
Construction’s female – and male – leaders need to remember that their anecdotes and life experiences are invaluable sources of information for young people in the industry and holding the occasional digital detox may be the best way to communicate your message and lead.
Theresa Mohammed is a contentious construction senior associate at Trowers & Hamlins and deputy chair of the London and South-east committee for the National Association of Women in Construction
Cristina Lanz-Azcarate is London and the South-east chair of the National Association of Women in Construction and a principal at Atelier EURA