Danna Walker is founder and director of Built By Us, a social enterprise which is on a mission to connect diverse talent to construction businesses. She is the former chair of RIBA’s equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group – Architects for Change (AfC) – and she currently serves as an elected board member of the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB), as well as being a trustee of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. Danna is an experienced project manager, qualified architect and electrician with over 25 years’ experience in design and the built environment.
“…I believe in order to make construction more welcoming to everyone, the sector needs to go beyond great marketing but to address the culture its workers encounter. I would like to see far more choice and opportunities in terms of flexible working, more focus on leadership at all levels, which will help to address poor behaviour and issues around unequal pay…”
Bright spark: Apprentice by day, student architect by night…
I’ve had quite an unusual career path. It all started with me leaving school aged 16, I loved art and design but had no idea whether this would be possible career path or how to start! It didn’t help that my ‘careers advisor’ put me off. So, I thought if I got a trade then I could earn money then try to get into design later, so I started an electrical apprenticeship. While working as an electrician I attended art classes at night, I still had the artistic bug and having experienced construction I felt that architecture would be possible…
I was delighted to discover that London South Bank University had a Women into Architecture course which was the starting point to training and qualifying as an architect. Inspired by working in practice and supporting the development of others I moved into skills development as a project manager and now I’m a social entrepreneur! An exciting role which brings together my experience and passion for inclusion.
Using my passion for inclusion to introduce and connect talent into construction careers
I started Built By Us (BBU) because I was tired of seeing talent wasted. Construction has traditionally focussed on youth as a talent pool and I believe that we are missing out on great people of all ages and backgrounds. While skills gaps continue to widen, a part of the potential workforce is being overlooked and becoming increasingly excluded economically. BBU’s mission is to introduce and connect diverse talent to careers in construction in a fun way, helping them to understand the huge range of opportunities available and address the skills gaps.
Opting for a social enterprise model to give back to industry and the wider community
Social enterprise is still a relatively new concept in business and I felt this was right for Built By Us as it emphasises the ‘double bottom line’ – people and profit. It’s so important that efforts to engage and retain talent are sustained and not completely governed by the changing landscape around funding which charities are subject to.
For me it’s an honour to be in service to others. I, like many people, want to make change and help things improve in industry and wider society. Getting involved in boards and groups has been a great way to connect with others and contribute to debate and action in a constructive way.
Making construction more welcoming, not just to women but also to the BAME community too
I believe in order to make construction more welcoming to everyone, the sector needs to go beyond great marketing but to address the culture its workers encounter. I would like to see far more choice and opportunities in terms of flexible working, more focus on leadership at all levels, which will help to address poor behaviour and issues around unequal pay.
These changes will not just be great for women and people from BAME backgrounds, they will be a fantastic improvement for everyone working in industry. If people feel they are being treated fairly and with respect, every one of the 2-3 million people working in the sector could become ambassadors for construction.
Addressing skills shortages and a housing shortage
It’s still very early days in terms of the implications of leaving the EU, so it’s difficult to predict the outcome. However, if what the UK is dealing with is a completely new economic and skills landscape we will need to look more widely than creating skills capacity to create the homes needed.
It would be great to have leading economists, designers, constructors and those most impacted by housing shortage around the table to develop solutions. I believe this would help to ensure that the mistakes made in trying to address housing need in post-war Britain are not repeated.
Advice for other women about breaking into male dominated sectors
Breaking into sectors that have low levels of diversity can be a real challenge, my first piece of advice would be to build and sustain your network (and by network I include your friends and family too). Having a support system is incredibly important, but you also benefit from the collective intelligence and resources you and your network share with each other.
The second thing is to be passionate about your purpose! As difficulties arise it is that passion that will fuel you and keep you going.
Coming up for me and Built By Us
It’s incredibly exciting, we love providing support and advice to people seeking work and to companies wishing to tackle inclusion and employee engagement. To continue our mission, Built By Us has just launched a newsletter and we will be launching two new programmes in the coming months designed to engage and inform people who are new to the sector and leaders in construction.
We are seeking volunteers from the construction sector (constructors, manufacturers and consultants) and from other sectors to take part in career events, so we would welcome anyone interested in hearing from anyone who would like to share their experience with others. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org