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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Rethinking HR strategy in construction: Embracing inclusion to attract new female talent — Samantha Turner-West, HR Manager at WOLFFKRAN Ltd


Samantha Turner-West, HR Manager at WOLFFKRAN Ltd, one of the largest tower crane operators and provider of lifting solutions in the UK, with a staff of over 300. Before this, she worked in HR in the electrical and electronic manufacturing sector, before joining the integrated security company, G4S. She recently secured her MSc in HRM at the same time as studying her BA Hons degree in Professional Management.

Samantha-Turner West

“As talent pools shrink due to external influences like Brexit and the global pandemic, diversity is pivotal to innovation and increased productivity within the industry, but the benefits go way beyond this.”

Challenging myself

Academia doesn’t come naturally to me; I have always had to work hard to achieve my goals. I left school with my GCSEs and then I went to college to study, but I dropped out of college as it wasn’t for me — I wasn’t ready to study again.

I dived into the world of work, and started working at a service station in KFC. Shortly after I was offered my first office position, at the age of 18, with Motus. After being there for a brief period I was offered an opportunity to work in HR and to study again.

I undertook various qualifications during this post which included, NVQs in Management at Level 3, followed by the Diploma in HR Practice with the CIPD at Level 3. I also started my level 7 Diploma in HRM with the CIPD during my time as an HR advisor. I have always felt the need to prove myself being a young woman working in a male environment, so climbing the ladder was not easy and fed my need to learn and develop.

Keeping on keeping on

After five years, my strategic experience had flourished, but I felt I had a gap in knowledge with regard to operational HR, so I joined G4S to develop this and, after a year of working in their Regional HR Team, I was lucky enough to be offered a promotion to lead the Field Team.

I continued with my study for the Level 7 Diploma in HRM. I wasn’t prepared for the complexity of a Level 7 qualification and I struggled greatly with this, whilst working full time, but I continued. Exams were the hardest as again, academia doesn’t come naturally to me.

Combining study with motherhood

Samantha Turner-West
Samantha’s graduation

After another successful year, I was presented with an opportunity to work for Wolffkran Ltd as their HR Manager. Whilst in employment with Wolffkran Ltd I fell pregnant with my first child so my studies were paused and my final exam deferred.

Both Wolffkran and the CIPD were incredibly supportive during the postnatal period. I was then ready to finish my Level 7, which I did! It felt amazing! Shortly after this I started a Level 6 BA Hons degree in Professional Management as I was hungry to develop my knowledge further in regard to operational management, meanwhile the global pandemic was in full swing…

Between working full time, home-schooling and studying, there was little time for much else! But… I was still extremely motivated to learn and I came across an MSc top course in HRM. I decided to enrol in January 2021 to achieve my MSc in HRM whilst studying for the BA Hons degree.

Overcoming health challenges

In February my house sale completed and we moved into our new home, so the juggling act continued. In June I found out I was pregnant with my second child and shortly after I was diagnosed with stage 3 Hyperemesis Gravidarum.

I cannot describe how difficult this condition is, often leading to hospitalisation for me, but studying kept me focused and I still had this need to prove myself. I then caught COVID-19 and was admitted to hospital again due dehydration. I must admit I have NEVER felt so ill. However, before I was admitted I was able to submit my dissertation and subsequently achieved my MSc.

During this time, I also completed year one of the BA Hons degree in Professional Management and maintained my grades. Although this journey has been challenging to say the least, I will always strive to develop both personally and professionally.

The importance of culture in the delivery of strategy

At WOLFFKRAN Ltd I am responsible for leading the HR contribution to the business plan; understanding business drivers and their HR implications in order to maximise the potential of all individuals to contribute to overall organisational goals.

WOLFFKRAN cranesIt’s my responsibility to create a culture conducive to the achievement of the business aims and strategy to deliver bottom-line value. I also advise on strategic and complex operational HR matters, and I also ensure deployment and refocusing of personnel in response to commercial priorities. Every day within my role is different, however, my role is more pro-active than it is reactive, so planning is a key daily activity.

COVID-19 impacts

Construction was able to continue work during the pandemic due to the works being essential, however, we still had the same challenges that other industries faced. We furloughed staff due to site closures, reduced numbers on sites to maintain social distancing, material shortages, and delayed works etc.

Construction has always been known for its long-hours culture and the requirement to work away from home. We have found that some workers who have been on furlough leave have adapted, reduced their outgoings, learnt to live off less and have adjusted to life at home, meaning workers are now seeking more work-life balance. This has caused further skills shortages. Many workers have also retrained whilst on furlough leave and as a consequence secured employment outside the industry that supports greater work-life balance.

Homeworking has impacted our organisation significantly as this was a huge shift in culture and operating structure, requiring us to rethink various strategies including wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, engagement, recruitment and absence management processes in order to continue to deliver our service.

Embracing inclusion to tackle shrinking talent pools

As talent pools shrink due to external influences like Brexit and the global pandemic, diversity is pivotal to innovation and increased productivity within the industry, but the benefits go way beyond this.

Plus, construction has a very traditional culture and is still predominately made up of men, so diversity could help break down cultural barriers and change the dynamics of the workforce, thus improving collaboration. This also supports the agenda of workplace wellbeing, as a change in dynamics could encourage men to be more open to discussing mental health challenges, as one example.

Attracting diverse talent

Samantha Turner-WestHow we attract talent is a key focus and it all starts with education and raising awareness. When people think about construction they think about an operative, head to toe in PPE, but, in reality, there is a whole breadth of different roles within construction that could be more appealing to, for example, women. I am a woman in construction, but my field of expertise is within HR, so it is important that we educate people in regard to what the women in construction agenda actually means.

Another key focus is: How do we promote inclusion and diversity? Creating networks of women and other minority groups can support this and we have successfully recruited fantastic women crane operators.

The global pandemic has supported a huge shift in regard to flexible working which allows both men and women to raise families and have careers. Some of our recruits have come through our ‘Refer a Friend’ scheme, resulting in couples with children job sharing. There is often a perception that flexible working doesn’t exist within construction, however, flexible working presents itself in many ways, job sharing is one way to support families and support work-life balance, this is changing our recruitment strategies within the industry.

There is a big focus on how we adapt to the political, economic and social challenges we are currently facing as more and more people desire work life balance, so, in order to attract and retain the right talent, we must create a more inclusive and diverse environment in order to thrive.

We have adopted a hybrid model with clear communication channels to ensure all homeworkers feel valued and part of a team. Our equality policies encompass a range of control measures and initiatives to support and protect a diverse workforce, including reasonable adjustments, honouring religious or cultural practices, gender pay, equal opportunities etc.

We are also a multilingual organisation that supports our workforce’s differences. Our goals are to focus on developing our ability to foster multiple generations and to create a multigenerational workforce, adapting our approach to support inclusion to encourage creativity, thus giving workers opportunities to flourish.

Coming up

Next for me is to complete my BA Hons degree and I look forward to bringing my unborn son into the world. I would love to undertake a doctorate in human resource management if the opportunity ever presents itself, as growth and development are important to me. I also look forward to being a part of this journey of change post-pandemic and I hope to contribute to and be an advocate for women in construction.

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