Celebrating with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)

On the 25 September, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) London and the South East celebrated its 15 year anniversary. 

Built By Us was lucky enough to be invited to the organisation’s first Annual Conference, bringing together a host of fantastic women working in the construction industry across the UK and Ireland.


Drawing on recent events – 100 years of women’s suffrage and various political and social movements – the conference specifically aimed at addressing issues of gender diversity in the context of business. In particular, it praised initiatives such as Built By Us, which are dedicated to supporting women and those from under-represented backgrounds into traditionally male-dominated industries.

The focus of the agenda was the strengths women bring to business, including creative problem solving and innovation. A host of speakers came together to inspire and empower attendees to not shy away from the challenges at hand – the rally cry was to take action to make a difference to their immediate environment and the industry as a whole without waiting to be given the opportunity.

Danna Walker, founder of Built By Us, took part in a panel discussion on ‘Women Shaping the Industry’, chaired by Construction News’ Lucy Alderson. She joined fellow panellists Annie Bowman (Hoydens) and  Cheryl Pilliner-Reeves (Director of PR Architect and Founder of ArchiMake).

Architect and BBU Founder Danna Walker presents The Architecture of Incarceration on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4 broadcast the documentary, Architecture of Incarceration, on Thursday 23 August 2018, presented by south London based architect and founder of Built By Us (BBU), Danna Walker.


With Britain committed to building 10,000 new prison places in a £1.3 billion project announced in 2015, Architecture of Incarceration asks some searching questions about prison architecture and what we expect from the buildings that house almost 90,000 men and women convicted of criminal offences across England and Wales.


By most measures prisons are failing. Report after report damns poorly-designed prison buildings that are inadequate for rehabilitation. Around half of all people in prison will be reconvicted within twelve months of release, with an estimated cost to the taxpayer of between £10-15 billion each year.

Prison architecture is possibly the only area of architecture where the aim is not the aesthetics of place and space. A lack of innovation over many decades means that the go-to design for prisons dates from the eighteenth century.

New prisons like HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, opened in 2017, have some progressive architectural flourishes, but essentially follow the centuries-old blueprint of plain facades, punctuated by tiny windows. Yet the work that takes place inside prisons is of fundamental importance to the safety of our society.

Architect and social entrepreneur Danna Walker visits London's oldest jail, HMP Brixton, as well as the unusual setting of HMP Styal near Manchester, and questions the role of prisons and whether good design can drive better outcomes.

She also visits Halden Prison in Norway, built ten years ago and often cited as “the world’s most humane prison”, but, it is very expensive to run. Could we learn valuable lessons from its strikingly humane architecture as we embark on our own transformative prison building programme?

The Art of Now: Architecture of Incarceration is produced by the Prison Radio Association and was be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Thursday 23 August 2018 at 11.30am. It will also be available on the BBC iPlayer Radio App to hear on demand following the broadcast.


Built By Us is a not-for-profit social enterprise on a mission to diversify the construction sector. Its vision is that by 2030 BBU it will have played an active role in making the sector more inclusive and a better reflection of the society it serves. BBU does this by supporting diverse and talented individuals wishing to develop sustainable careers in the built environment and by supporting built environment businesses on their journey to become more inclusive workplaces.


The Prison Radio Association is a charity that specialises in creating media to transform lives and reduce crime. It runs National Prison Radio, the world’s first national radio station for prisoners. Available to more than 80,000 people across England and Wales via in-cell television, it has revolutionised the way we communicate in prisons. 86% of people in prison listen to National Prison Radio, and 45% listen every day. PRA Productions is the commercial arm of the charity. It creates audio, films and animations for a wide variety of clients, including the BBC. All profits go back into supporting their work in prisons.


My Hustle | Meet Shade Abdul

My Hustle is a new feature on the BBU Blog where we ask inspirational and trailblazing people in construction to share their career story. We start with an architect who started her own practice Shade Abdul.

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How did you start your career in construction?

My career started working for small practices whose work inspired me in some way or another. I think collectively, they inspired me to start working for myself in 2010, 3 years after becoming a registered architect. I think one cannot fully understand the business of architecture until you are up in a director level or running your own business and I wanted to know as much as possible.

Explore the practical business of getting experience – even a two weeks experience can influence your future decisions.

What or who inspired you to work in construction?

The idea of working in architecture really came about through a two weeks work experience set up by my school at the age of 15. The story goes a little like this: In my first art lesson in secondary school, another student who had great drawing skills said she knew what she wanted to be when she grows up and that was an architect. I think I might have even asked her what that was. 4 years later, I remembered that proclamation so well that I conspired with her that if she chose the local council’s architect’s office as her first choice and the graphic design office I really wanted as her second choice, and if I did the reversal then we would both get the placements that we wanted. The strategy failed – I ended up in the local council’s architect’s office and became an architect, she went to the graphic design office and became a graphic designer. I’m very grateful for those two weeks experience that my school – a state school – provided.

I would describe architecture as...

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For me architecture is about experiences, how people feel when they see a building from the outside or how they feel when they are moving through the spaces inside.  I would describe architecture as the design of experiences.

It takes time to qualify as an architect, how did you stay motivated?

It takes such a long time to qualify that there were occasions where I wondered whether I had made the right choice. Thankfully in the UK, architecture schools vary in their teachings. I gravitated towards schools where I felt that my artistic interests could be pursued and that always allowed me to see the course as a gateway for other career paths if, at the end of my studies, I decided that the architectural profession wasn’t for me. The knowledge that other career options were possible kept me motivated.

Running my own business

I set up as Shade Abdul Architecture, however, I’m currently in the process of rebranding as Studio Shade Abdul as a result of how I see my practice developing going forward. The core projects that I carry out are private residential, but I also would like to work on commercial spaces. I get very excited about projects where design can happen at different scales from architecture right down to the furniture.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration in people and places. Designing architecture is a collaborative effort with clients, other consultants, builders and craftsmen. The conversations and exchanges that occur inspire me and the design ideas that come to me. And of course, architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so the places where projects sit in inspire me as well as faraway places discovered through travelling.

Getting into construction

My advice to anyone wishing to work in construction is to find out what you like about construction and what inspires you about construction. Then explore the practical business of getting experience – even a two weeks experience can influence your future decisions.

What's next for you?

Expanding the sectors that I work in beyond private residential and collaborating with other architects where there is a synergy of ideas and approach both in London and in Lagos.

About Shade Abdul

Shade Abdul runs an architecture and interior design studio based in London. The studio undertakes bespoke projects at the intersection of architecture, interior and furniture. We work collaboratively with clients, consultants and highly skilled tradespeople to design engaging spatial experiences.

Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

W: www.shade-abdul.com

"My Hustle" is a careers story feature which highlights amazing people working in the construction sector and breaking the mould. If you would like to share your story, contact BBU at info@builtbyus.org.uk  

Show Us The Money

4 Ways to close the pay gap in Construction

The UK Government now requires UK businesses employing 250 people or more, to report on the Gender Pay Gap (GPG), but what does this actually mean, and, why are we comparing workers engaged in different roles?

The measurement of the Gender Pay Gap is about understanding and illustrating the bigger picture. What it demonstrates is the broader gap between men and women in terms of their average earnings regardless of their role and title and is therefore different from the Equal Pay issue. The GPG can be expressed across a company or collated by sector as recently published by the UK Government by Sector. According to government figures, so far, 10,669 companies have submitted data to the programme representing 80% of large UK businesses.

It is beyond disappointing to see that Construction had one of the widest pay gaps of UK business sectors. To many this may not have been surprising, the pay gap for construction is 23% and as we know it’s not the most diverse sector with only around 13 percent of the workforce being female.

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However, what this data demonstrates is that the problem is pernicious and operates across businesses and sectors. Even in gender balanced or majority female organisations and sectors, the gap in reward persists. And even worse if you factor in the pay gaps that exist for people who fall under other protected characteristics such as ethnicity or disability which create multiplier effects, such as reduced access to education, employment or progression opportunities.

So, what can the UK construction sector do to address this? Firstly we need to better understand the structures, that are formally and informally maintaining the status quo.

Equal pay isn't just a women's issue; when women get equal pay, their family incomes rise and the whole family benefits.
Mike Honda

Four Ways to address gender pay gap in construction

  1. Change the industry’s view on “presenteeism”. Opportunities to work flexibly in construction are growing but they compare poorly to other sectors. As a majority male industry the mistaken assumption that all men want to work full time (plus additional hours just to get the job done) has created a culture where presenteeism prevails. Those who need flexible working arrangements are either considered unsuitable for roles or not committed. The industry could change this by elevating flexible working by making it the default option.
  2. Improve recruitment and promotion processes. Understanding and eliminating unconscious bias is a huge part of the challenge, but I believe that a broader understanding of skills recognition (beyond the technical) also needs to be embedded into processes of recognition and reward. A diverse staff team brings new skills, lived experience and perspective. At present this is often not seen as added value but as one which subtracts value.
  3. Review and share the hiring and promotion record of those responsible for decision making. Senior ownership and accountability for monitoring these processes will reveal any gaps between the intentions of the organisation and the individuals responsible for enacting them.
  4. Encourage and incentivise movement between support and coordination/management roles. I believe Gender Pay Gap reporting is also revealing the lack of female leadership and for many a lack of progression routes for women working in construction. Those who are not engaged directly in technical delivery play significant roles in business support. I have lost count of the number of women who tell me that when they share with their organisations that they have been inspired to retrain, take on more responsibility or move into more technical areas they find this pathway blocked to them. Huge amounts of talent and potential are being wasted by a lack of progression pathways inside construction organisations. We need to address the divide between business support and “technical” roles by incentivising and encouraging ambition and supporting women into management and leadership.

Leaders in the construction sector have long bemoaned the skills crisis impacting industry, which in the near future could seriously impact growth. To paraphrase one of the most quoted and iconic movies of the 90s, Jerry Maguire, it is time for the sector to demonstrate a commitment to diversity that goes beyond good intentions and “Shows [us] the money”, because I believe that by supporting, encouraging and fairly remunerating diverse talent we can attract and upskill the people desperately needed to contribute and enhance the built environment.

Want to improve your leadership skills? Become a mentor.

So what is mentoring?

I see mentoring as a strategy for knowledge exchange, very much led by the mentee or learner. In its traditional form, it is a one-to-one relationship in which the mentor may be a more experienced individual or have experience in the role or area that the mentee is seeking to understand.


The mentor provides guidance where needed but most importantly they create a space where the mentee can explore issues, gain insight and develop solutions to the issues which may be hindering their growth.


While there are synergies with teaching, coaching and other forms of one-to-one developmental relationships, the key differentiator in mentoring is the absence of giving direct instructions to the mentee and the fact that the mentor may have experience in the role the mentee is hoping to develop into.

What skills and attributes are needed to be a mentor?

Deciding to become a mentor to others is one of the most generous acts that an individual can undertake for another person. It is no surprise therefore that the role tends to attract people with a desire to “give back” in some way or to ensure that others can gain the support needed to fully realise their talent.



“Growing other leaders from the ranks isn’t just the duty of the leader, it’s an obligation.” – Warren Bennis



The key skill needed as a mentor is the ability to listen without prejudice and in a world filled with ever-growing distractions the art and skill of truly listening to another person may soon be lost.

Full and active listening is the foundation on which the attributes of good mentors are built including:

  • The ability to build rapport with their mentoring partner

  • The ability to create Trust, to be able to rely on a person’s honesty or have confidence in them.

  • The fundamental ability to communicate effectively with their partner

  • The ability to Empathise with another person’s perspective, situation or feelings


“In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.” – Maya Angelou


But surely to be a good mentor I need to be older? Super experienced? Or to have had a near perfect career?

Being a mentor is not about being the “finished article”. In reality, the best mentors are self-aware and understand their own strengths and shortcomings and they are able to use the lessons they have learned to support their mentee.

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen


It would be easy to imagine that you need to have near-celebrity status in your given discipline to be considered mentoring material - in the programmes I’ve run and the mentoring that I’ve experienced, knowing that my mentor was not perfect, (just like me) really helped to put things into perspective and gave additional credibility to their feedback and comments.


Developing your leadership skills

I am a huge believer in the potential for mentoring to transform the lives of both mentees and mentors. I’ve developed and managed mentoring programmes for over 8 years now and I am constantly amazed and humbled by the positive changes reported by many of the individuals seeking support and those so generously giving their time to others.

While the positive impacts for mentees are expected, it is the way in which the mentors report that they improve their skills as leaders which is most impressive.

Becoming a mentor often offers an opportunity to review your own career, better understand your approach to communication with others or develop a greater awareness of your own management style. All of this and more helps mentors to develop and hone their skills as leaders.

Built By Us is seeking mentors to support new and budding entrepreneurs through the Shape Programme. If you have the commitment and passion to offer your experience and time, do contact us. We’d love to hear from you.