L&Q celebrates female colleagues as they ‘break the bias’

Published on 14/03/2022

Inspiring women from across L&Q shared their experiences of working in male-dominated departments, as International Women’s Day organisers urge us all to ‘break the bias’.

Three staff members revealed what it’s like working in design, development, construction – and even within the executive group.

International Women’s Day, on March 8, is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political and the economic, to the social and cultural – while calling for gender equality and the removal of bias.

Group Chief Executive, Fiona Fletcher-Smith, reflected on her time studying surveying.

“Women were treated with respect and understanding by a teaching staff that was mainly made up of women. That women felt they were better pursuing an academic career in housing, rather than choosing to work at the coal face, was a sign that something was wrong with the industry”, she said.

Sioban Wall, Head of Construction and Logistics, praised L&Q for the support it offers women.

“Women face different challenges– from motherhood and the menopause to the loss of our parents – at different stages of life. Working for a supportive organisation like L&Q allows us to discuss these freely, without fear of stigma or taboo. It helps us to talk about real issues in real time and find solutions.”

Sioban spoke candidly about her experience of bias, and how she thinks the pandemic has paved the way for a fairer workplace.

“As a mum with young children, I was looking for a flexible work pattern to fit with my parental responsibilities. I spoke to a recruiter about asking potential employers for reduced hours, but he dissuaded me from doing so. He thought it might be perceived as lazy or show a lack of commitment”, she said.

Sioban continued: “The pandemic brought about a revolution in terms of the way we work. We’ve got to hold onto the benefits flexible working brought to women – something that many had advocated for, for a long time.”

Post Brexit, changing construction’s image as a male dominated, old-fashioned sector is no longer optional – it’s essential to rebuilding the sector’s skills base. Design and Technical Manager, Tanja Pfitzner, shared why it is important to combat the negative misconceptions of the industry.

“Construction isn’t just about hard hats and steel capped boots, it’s also about innovation, technology, great design, communities and placemaking”, she said.

Tanja continued: “I loved working on a construction site. It was a brilliant way to learn about different technical and design elements and see them come to life. I was there, I was showing up and I was doing the work: my male colleagues respected my work ethic and were happy to explain everything”, she said.

Grazyna Batorowicz gave a talk on our Aspiring Managers and Emerging Leaders programmes. Run by One Housing, the initiatives support staff to upskill and progress in their careers through access to learning and development opportunities. Female colleagues make up 62% of L&Q’s current cohorts.

Liana Brown spoke about Get, Set, Go, an L&Q Foundation project delivering a range of inclusive sports and fitness activities that are empowering female residents to reclaim the joy around movement.

Set up in 2020, the Sports England initiative aims to challenge notions around exercise and redefine what it means to women living in L&Q’s Beaumont and Silwood estates.

“I’ve always been involved in sport and fitness in some way – it’s something that I really enjoy. One thing I feel passionate about is every person has an activity that is right for them”, Liane said.

At L&Q, breaking the bias is incredibly important, and Inspire – the business’ gender equality network – has worked tirelessly to have a positive impact.

Chair of Inspire, L&Q’s gender equality network, Naomi McPherson, said: “I’m happy that the Inspire Network were able to bring together a diverse panel of distinguished women to celebrate IWD 2022. By breaking the bias, we hope to inspire female colleagues to break through the glass ceiling and reach their full potential.”

Fiona Fletcher-Smith added: “We’re proud to have supportive policies for women at L&Q, including the Rooney Rule. Our Break the Bias event was a brilliant way to celebrate their diversity, while also hearing first-hand experiences from leading women within the industry.”