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Breaking Barriers: A Woman's Journey in Construction and Design

08 of March of 2024

When I look back at my career so far, I’m struck by how linear and logical the path seems to be. But the truth is, when I started out, I had no idea where my professional trajectory would take me.

My story is one of growth, evolution, and stepping through the doors that appear along the way.  I’ve found that if you’re willing to embrace a challenge, there are always opportunities to advance on your journey. All you have to do is work hard—and if you’re a woman, you’ll probably need to work a little bit harder.

A solid foundation in architecture and design

Like most teenagers, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study at university. I gravitated towards architecture because that’s what I saw at home. My mom is an architect—she has always been a role model for me—and at school I was very good and really enjoyed the more technical subjects, making architecture a natural choice.

I earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Navarra in Spain and graduated with honors. During my degree I had the opportunity to work as an intern architect, first at an architectural practice in Bali, Indonesia, and later in London, where I became a UK chartered architect.

After gaining my footing in architecture and design, I realized that I wanted to move toward design management and construction. To take a step in that direction, I enrolled in a course to earn my APM project management qualification and broaden my knowledge.

That experience led me to accept a position as a design coordinator at Ferrovial, where I would face my biggest hurdle yet: going from a design background, where I was used to working in an office where everything was nice and quiet and perfectly organized, to working on a construction site.

Moving into construction and infrastructure

When I first joined Ferrovial, I told some of my line managers that I wanted to be more involved in strategy, on the business side of things, and they said OK, but first you need to work on-site.

From a woman’s perspective, I found working on-site to be quite challenging. Our industry still definitely has a male majority. I did enjoy some aspects of it, and it was an incredible world to have access to.

I did get to work on two very high-profile projects in London—Crossrail Farringdon Station and the Northern Line Extension—and I am very grateful for these experiences. I gained the knowledge and technical skills that enabled me to take the next steps in my career.

Working on London’s Northern Line Extension

As a design coordinator, I managed the subcontractors, external suppliers, and client relationships, which allowed me to participate in all the different stages of the project’s lifecycle.

One part of my role was to ensure that the reality on-site matched the client’s initial design. Any changes had to go through the proper procedures, including safety and risk assurance, and be approved by the client, TfL London Underground.

Why isn’t it always possible to follow the design? Well, you have to keep in mind that big projects like this are designed several years before they are carried out, and a lot can happen during that time.

Sometimes the original design specifies a product that is no longer on the market, or there might be a new material and better in quality. Anything we proposed as part of value engineering, to be more on budget and on schedule, had to be compliant and accepted by the client.

Although I found working on-site to be challenging, it was also very rewarding.

Now, when I travel on the Northern Line or Crossrail, I pay special attention to the stations. They are really quite beautiful, and it’s amazing how many people use them every day. I’m proud to say that I worked on the construction sites; that’s very fulfilling.

Transitioning into business development

After over three years working on-site, I was able to continue my journey to the area I am truly passionate about: business development.

First, I joined the tendering team, working on high-profile schemes such as HS2, Great Britain’s new high-speed railway.

Next, I landed my current role as a business development manager, where I’m focused on building relationships with clients and joint venture partners and identifying possible future projects in the UK and Ireland.

I really enjoy the business side because it gives you a better understanding of why a project exists in the first place. The final result is only possible because there has been a team checking the feasibility of a project, thinking about why this building was needed, how it fits into the company’s strategy, and how it aligns with the company’s goals, strategy and values.

Whereas before I was focused on the physical design of the project, now I get to help design the bigger picture. It’s exciting to be identifying projects that could be built 10 or 20 years from now, to be part of a team that shapes the future of the company.

How companies can help women succeed?

Being a woman in this industry is not easy. Even now that I’m on the business side of things, it’s still not uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room.

I’m not saying there should necessarily be more women—nobody can make women go into a field they don’t want to be in.

But what companies can control is how they treat women in their company. It’s important for companies to help women grow, to develop their careers, and also to help them take care of their family and have a life apart from work. There has to be a balance between being challenged and at the same time being happy and having flexibility.

It’s essential to see women working at every rung of the ladder, from young women starting their careers all the way up to women in top leadership positions. For example, a new director recently joined the Business Development Division, and she is an incredible leader, not just in terms of expertise, but also in her character. She’s very enthusiastic about helping others grow, and I think that’s very, very important.

Seeing yourself in a company is powerful. Knowing women in different positions at your company helps you imagine where you could be in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years. That makes you grow and work towards a goal. It makes you feel that you are in the right place.

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