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By Paul Wilkinson
December 11, 2017
An architect by background, Australian-born Rebecca de Cicco developed a passion for technology–and for building information modelling (BIM)–while working in London. In the process, she became aware of the under-representation of women in the construction technology sector, and in 2012 founded the Women in BIM (WiB) group. Paul Wilkinson asked her about the initiative.
Rebecca de Cicco gained a degree in architecture from the Louis Laybourne-Smith School of Architecture & Design at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, graduating in 2002. She worked at Hassell Architects in Adelaide for four years before her desire to gain international experience took her to the UK. From 2008, de Cicco worked at London-based design firm KSS Architects and then at David Miller Architects before deciding, in February 2014, to set up her own consultancy business, Digital Node.
As a technical associate and a BIM specialist at KSS Architects, de Cicco supported BIM implementation across the organisation, providing training in Autodesk Revit, while keeping up-to-date on industry standards. Her seven years at KSS also coincided with the start of the UK Government’s five-year BIM programme. She says she quickly realised two things: first, she cared more about digital working than she did about conventional architectural work; second, she could make more of a difference promoting digital working. “For me, it was about how can I do my job better using processes and technologies to support my work.”
De Cicco was involved with various UK BIM initiatives, and it came to her attention that she was often the only woman in the room at such meetings or events. “This reflected the under-representation of women in construction as a whole, and as they are also under-represented in the tech space, it becomes an even smaller group,” she says. “It isn’t to say there weren’t women in this space – they just weren’t visible attending events. And this was a global issue, too; it affected all the markets I worked in.”
Leading a BIM2050 task group predominantly comprising professionals in their early career brought de Cicco into contact with more women engaged in technology-related roles at architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, supplier businesses, plus students. BIM2050 focused on schools and universities, and on getting sufficient number of young people engaged with BIM to support future industry needs. However, it also highlighted the need for a network to help to connect women already working in construction technology.
Connecting Women in Technology
Women in BIM (WiB) was founded as a not-for-profit community in 2012, and started to build a network of members using LinkedIn. “Initially, it was about gaining visibility, showing that women were prominently involved in construction technology roles. But now it’s more about providing a support network to encourage and mentor.”
While the UK initially had the largest number of members (reflecting the location of the early founders), the group has expanded to include women in different regions around the world. By 2016, the LinkedIn community had grown to over 500, extending to women in Europe, the US, Australia, the middle East, and south-east Asia. “We still weren’t communicating enough, though,” de Cicco says. “BIM conversations on LinkedIn and Twitter still tended to be dominated by vocal and confident male contributors; women were often still hesitant about raising issues.”
So, in 2016, WiB set up a database of members, which is now over 300-strong. This is intended to drive a secure, private portal where women can ask questions, raise issues, and get feedback from others in similar roles or facing similar challenges.
Retaining Women in Construction Tech Roles
“It is all about connectivity,” de Cicco says. “As well as supporting each other, we want to help women advance at different points in their careers and show what kind of roles they might aspire to. We can then help them connect with others in similar roles or in the roles they aspire to. The portal will help women share experiences, help them advance, help to retain them in the industry, and, by growing their prominence, make construction more attractive to potential female joiners.”
While women currently make up around 11 per cent of personnel in the UK construction sector, de Cicco’s estimate is that within the industry, the proportion of women in technology roles is less than five per cent.
“The research we have reviewed suggests that the issue is not drawing women into construction-related careers. It is more about retaining these women as they move into senior roles,” she adds. “This is why WiB is squarely aimed at supporting women throughout their careers.”
De Cicco is keen to grow the network in North America by appointing prominent individuals scattered across the continent. WiB is also connecting with other STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and ‘women in construction’ initiatives, and looking for sponsors (from contractors and consultants to software vendors) who want to be seen as actively backing a more diverse and inclusive industry rather than just paying ‘lip service’ to the aim.
“We have an ageing industry – in the UK, for instance, around 30 per cent of the existing workforce is already over 50, with many set to retire in the next ten years. Investing in digitisation is one way we can reduce the looming skills shortages, and retaining and expanding our pool of existing digital workers – and providing role models for tomorrow’s digital professionals – is what Women in BIM is all about.”
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