Women in HCP Consultancy

Ellie sat down with Clare Le Grys and Lucy Birch this month to discuss careers, challenges, balance and advice for new starters at Chiswell St HQ.

I’ll start with you Clare, what has your career journey so far involved?

Clare LeGrys– I joined John Laing construction in my early 20’s, where I was responsible for administering the company’s graduate training scheme via the Institute of Civil Engineers. I was also involved in marketing and producing/authoring the company’s monthly newsletter, which in those days, was issued in hard copy to all current and retired members of staff; keeping royal mail in business! When I returned to work after having my son, I wanted to work part time as he was only five months old. Unfortunately, my previous role could only be offered on a full-time basis, so, I came back and started working in the Quality Department. I found I had a bit of an affinity with the subject (which surprised me as my background was art based), so when my son was one, I began working full time in the team and was fortunate to be offered training to become a Quality Engineer.

I undertook a degree equivalent Diploma in Quality Management for Business, which involved attendance at University one evening a week for around three years, plus multiple exams, and I graduated about 15 years ago. My role then changed to Quality Manager and I joined forces with the John Laing Technical Services function, where I also fulfilled the role of Quality Manager for company’s UKAS Accredited Testing Facility. One of the Quality Management modules that interested me the most was on Environmental Management, so with the support of my company, I then commenced a Master’s in Environmental Management for Business; however, due to the demands of my role and brining up two children, I decided the volume of study was too great, so instead of completing the full course, I graduated with a Post Graduate Certificate.

My role then changed to Quality Manager for Laing Roads and I became heavily involved in the John Laing’s PFI roads portfolio, which involved both bidding, construction and operational activities. I became named Quality Director on four PFI road projects, which are still operational and now form part of HCP’s project portfolio.

The needs of the business meant that my role needed to expand to include health and safety. To ensure I was suitably qualified in this area, John Laing sponsored me to undertake a NEBOSH Diploma in Health and Safety Management, which I graduated in around six years ago.

I tuped to HCP in December 2016, joining the Risk Management Team with responsibility for Health and Safety, carrying out audits and service provider evaluations, general business compliance, procedures and policy setting, management of health and safety training, maintaining certification with our external accreditation bodies, whilst still maintaining a functional link to the highway sector through the retained role of Quality Director Following an internal re-organisation, I now work in the Consultancy team, where my roles and responsibilities remain mixed and varied.

Lucy Birch – I’ve had quite a lot of different roles, working in sports administration, was very lucky to work for British Swimming and go to different country competitions with the swimmers. I’ve worked in Recruitment, banking and finance, and for the opposite side, working for the Financial Ombudsman, dealing with things when they’ve gone wrong. And obviously HCP, different roles starting with Modus, moving into CHL and Risk/Consultancy side.

Have you had any support from senior colleagues or mentors along the way that have shaped your journey?

Clare– When I worked for John Laing, I was being mentored by a female engineer working on the Cardiff Millennium Stadium during the construction phase. I was involved on site as a Quality Engineer, whilst her role as Chartered Engineer provided me with a greater insight into the construction processes, to include the associated controls and hold points required during the numerous operations undertaken. That was interesting. Now support is generally through team meetings, finding things out for yourself, reading technical literature., etc. I’m a member of a couple of professional bodies, so I read their journals to ensure I’m up to date with current legislation and best practice initiatives.

Lucy– I’ve been very lucky, when I started at HCP, I had Paul Francis as a backer and soundboard to progress. Now I’m doing mentoring with both Clare and Neal Devoil. Having different people and others with HCP to ask certain questions without feeling silly, bouncing ideas off each other.

What have been your biggest career challenges so far?

Clare– Studying, bringing up children and working full time was the most challenging element of my career, as it was not always easy to please everyone at the same time, and you have to spend a lot of your time juggling and compromising!

It was also a challenge moving from John Laing to HCP and becoming familiar with different or new ways of working and forging new relationships within teams. However, during my time spent with John Laing, I was exposed to several business re-organisations, which I believe made the transition to working at HCP easier.

Lucy– I got made redundant at 24, in your head that’s something that happens to your parent’s friends, not something that happens to you. To be that age and thinking that you’re settled and know what you’re doing, it was then finding a new way; trying different things and realising that if you do try something and don’t particularly like it you’ve not lost anything. Don’t give up and keep speaking to the people around you.

Have come across obstacles as women in a traditionally male dominated industry?

Clare– I audit on four operational road projects, which is a very male driven environment. Occasionally the road operators don’t always take me seriously as a woman, but as I am very knowledgeable about their contracts and legal requirements, the situation generally turns around very quickly, particularly when they realise I adopt a collaborative approach, rather than being there to ‘police’ or find fault with their activities.

Lucy– Like you say Clare doing your homework before you go means that if any obstacles do come up, they can be dealt with. Sometimes trip hazards are laid out for you but if you have the reasoning behind them it isn’t an issue.

Clare– It’s not trying to outdo anybody, just making sure you have the facts and that whatever you’re talking about is objective and evidence based.

Lucy– They expect you not to be able to do certain things, but they appreciate you more when they realise that they can’t do something without you. You get respect back when they realise you are a vital member of the team.

Clare– I agree. If I’m in a situation that could get a bit confrontational, or where there could be disagreement on a contractual or legal requirement, I try and provide solutions that suits all parties.

That must be a challenge of yours as you go to visit projects and when they’ve got an audit coming up there’s a panic and you are so lovely and the way you’ve always done it is on the same team.

Clare– We’re here to help and protect. If we find something wrong on a project, it’s in the best interest of the team to put things right to prevent anyone getting injured. I also explain that if things aren’t rectified, that apart from injury, the worst-case scenario is that someone could end up in court, which would have significant impacts not only on the individual, but also the company.

How do you now achieve a work/life balance, if indeed you do?

Clare– I’m flexible in that I travel to projects often and can dictate my diary to a certain extent, it depends on the availability of the people I need to meet. If I work from home I’ll often work late, sometimes until around 8pm because I haven’t got to factor in journey time and sometimes, I work at the weekends if I’ve got a deadline to meet.

Also, once you get to a certain point in your career you know what you’re doing, so I’m not having to overanalyse every task I undertake as it is more routine and comes naturally. I go to the gym a fair amount and am also a member of a local Rock Choir, which are both good releases after a stressful day, and as my children are now grown up, I don’t have to consider their needs.

Lucy– I think there’s times when it’s busy, you work late, work from home and must travel around sites, factoring that in. I like to download podcasts and listen to them on the train. I have seen a change more recently in HCP, we are more sociable than we used to be, and different things are happening since the London offices joined at Chiswell, we’ve integrated.

Clare– Yes – people seem to interact far more, we chat in the kitchen etc, and it can be social but often it’s also about work. Communication is the key for a happy working environment!

Lucy– It’s a more informal environment and we’re finding a happy medium. As you all know, I’m into sport, so that the thing I spend too much on, event tickets. Sometimes you do need to pick something up on a weekend, but I’d rather do that than worry about it for Monday.

Do you have plans or intentions for your role/life?

Clare– My role will be to continue to undertake personal development as needed for my role, which will involve attending CPD sessions outside working hours. I enjoy my work life balance and I’m happy working at my current level, with no immediate intent to change roles or move. At one point I did consider becoming a GM, as I’m frequently involved within projects and I’ve learned about the role.

The Consultancy Team has a lot of transferable skills, I know people from Ops move into the team and vice versa, if you have that experience it’s a good option.

Lucy– Coming from a project base to Consultancy and going forward, picking up more Commercial Analyst work, getting involved more on other Consultancy teams, PM, TS and getting to know the business. Getting to know different avenues.

Clare- And the diversity of projects we’ve got as well, a hospital project is very different to a road project.

Lucy– I’ve worked on Defence and Hospitals but there’s Roads, renewables, they are so many ways of working.

Do you have any advice for new starters coming into the HCP Consultancy Teams?

Clare– I’d say don’t be afraid to ask if you are uncertain, don’t dwell, just talk to anyone within the business who can provide you with the information you need, as we are all sociable and approachable. You’re not going to be judged, probably quite the opposite as you will be seen as taking the initiative and demonstrating your willingness to learn, which will ultimately gain you respect.

Lucy– You’ve got to consider how much experience there is in the Consultancy Teams. People from a QS background, PM, Clerks of Work, TS, H&S, SAM Asset Management. If there’s something you don’t know there will be someone in our team who will. We have monthly catch up and weekly calls there’s a great opportunity to raise something.

Thank you both, it’s been a pleasure to chat and share your insights into working in the Consultancy Teams at HCP.

(Interviewer Ellie Rowland-Callanan, Marketing and Social Impact Lead)

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