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Inspiration for a staid profession

Quantity surveyor and Inspire award winner Chim Chalemera is a shining light for diversity in the industry

Chim Chalemera has had an interesting route to where she is today. Growing up in Malawi, she was surrounded by women who went into accountancy, nursing or secretarial posts.

But her father ran a construction business and she wanted to do something different. “I wanted the challenge. The fact that there weren’t more women doing it attracted me.”

After high school she did voluntary work at Turner and Townsend in Malawi for five months. “I did everything from general assistant, to admin, to helping a quantity surveyor,” she says, adding that out of a population of 12 million, there were only three female quantity surveyors in the country. She came to the UK in 1998 to do a sandwich course in surveying.

Ms Chalemera says she felt a little intimated by her largely male group of course mates. “I’d come from having a lot of girls in the class and then it was 95 per cent male,” she says.

A similar feeling translated to her first client meetings. “You’d walk in and it’s all these old white men. Trying to get people to take you seriously was the biggest battle,” she says.

She is passionate about attracting more women, and people from ethnic minorities, into the industry.

“The nations of the world are diverse,” she says. “If you restrict entry then you are not capitalising on the different skills.”

Positive emotions

“Construction is about relationships. Women are more emotional, which has its positives and negatives, but I think women have an easier time of it when it comes to building relationships,” she says.

She has got involved in Manchester’s Women In Science, Engineering and Technology group, where she helps younger women.

She goes into schools to encourage children to think about construction. Ms Chalemera encourages her friends from Malawi into the industry - her younger sister is in construction management and her cousin works in property investment.

She wants the industry to market itself better. “It’s seen as a dull industry. We need to market ourselves better and the efforts are not being made.”

Her ambition has paid off. She was promoted to associate director at 27 and last year won Future Star at the Inspire awards. She also won the diversity category last December at the G4C awards, also organised by Construction News.

To enter this year’s Inspire awards, organised by Construction News, go to inspireevent.co.uk. The closing date is 4 April