Top contractors promise more women in boardrooms

CM asks the UK’s biggest tier 1 construction firms how they plan to improve gender imbalance in senior positions
Women on the boards of major contractors include (clockwise from top left): Mandy Willis, Mace; Katy Dowding, Skanska UK; Kelly Gangotra, Skanska UK; Zoe Price, ISG (image: Solk Photography); Amanda Fisher, Amey
Women on the boards of major contractors include (clockwise from top left): Mandy Willis, Mace; Katy Dowding, Skanska UK; Kelly Gangotra, Skanska UK; Zoe Price, ISG (image: Solk Photography); Amanda Fisher, Amey

The UK’s biggest construction contractors have vowed to boost the proportion of women in senior roles, as research by CM showed that on average women occupy just over a quarter (28%) of board-level positions at the firms.

Among the 10 biggest firms by turnover in 2020, the proportion of women on the board of directors ranged from 12.5% at its lowest level, to 43% in the case of ISG, where three women and four men make up its statutory board.

The mode average proportion of women on the contractors’ boards was 25% – with Balfour Beatty, Mace, Laing O’Rourke and Amey all reporting that women occupied a quarter of the most senior positions in their companies.

At Kier, Skanska UK and Morgan Sindall, that figure was 29% (two out of seven in all three cases). Meanwhile two out of six members of Galliford Try’s board are women, and one out of its six-strong executive team. At Interserve Construction, one woman sits on the board out of eight attendees.

“The mode average proportion of women on the contractors’ boards was 25%”

Among prominent female figures at the contractors are Amey chief executive Amanda Fisher. Fisher is a former army officer and former managing director of Balfour Beatty Living Places. She was appointed as chief executive of Amey in December 2019, having been managing director of facilities management, defence and justice at Amey since 2017. 

Skanska UK executive vice-president Katy Dowding joined the firm in 2003, having previously worked for Tarmac/Carillion for 15 years. Dowding works alongside chief financial officer Kelly Gangotra, who has been with the firm since 2012.

ISG chief operating officer Zoe Price leads the firm’s UK construction business, having previously served as head of public sector frameworks, helping to more than triple the revenue ISG generates from public sector frameworks within three years.

Group director of strategy Mandy Willis joined Mace in 2014, having supported the board as an external commercial tax advisor for 14 years.

Women now hold a third of board positions in the UK’s top public companies, according to the government-backed Hampton-Alexander review, released in February 2020.

This means that the top construction contractors in the UK, on average, are five percentage points down on the average across all boardrooms among the top 350 UK listed companies.

The Hampton-Alexander review also highlighted how women in boardrooms are over-represented in some roles and under-represented in others. They made up only 15% of finance directors, compared with 66% of human resources directors. 

What the majors say about diversity at board level – leading UK contractors explain their policies

Balfour Beatty

“We have not set a target for the number of women at board level, however we continue to deliver on our UK Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which includes actions to increase female talent throughout the business and support their career development. At an executive committee level, our group head of communications and our group general counsel are women. Last year, the proportion of hires into senior roles rose from 20% female in 2019 to 32%.”


“Our statutory board comprises three women – chief financial officer, chief human resources officer, and chief operating officer for construction – and four men. So that’s not quite parity – but it is one of the most diverse in construction. We feel we have broader conversations with those different perspectives. There is evidence to show that more diverse businesses perform better, and all the board are committed to the journey we are on.”

Morgan Sindall

“We want our board diversity to be exemplary within our industry. To this end, we are working towards women making up at least one-third of our senior management team and aim to have recruited at least one person from a BAME background to the board by December 2024. We have about double the number of women than the sector average working for the different divisions that make up the group.”

Laing O’Rourke

“We have been working hard to attract, develop and retain talented women in senior positions and through our early talent recruitment and training programmes. We are pleased that 40% of our Europe Hub Executive Committee is female, but recognise there is more to do. At the same time, our investment in modern methods of construction will help build an industry that is attractive and fair for the next generation, regardless of gender.”


“We recognise the importance of diversity at all levels of our business and we are committed to increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions at Amey. We have a number of initiatives in place to support this, such as our Women’s Development Programme, which nurtures the skills, knowledge and capability of our 20 most talented women each year and our Women at Amey network which encourages inclusivity.”


“We are steadfast in our commitment of having a diverse, inclusive culture which supports and encourages everyone. Our aim is to make sustained improvement to our gender split over the longer term. Encouraging women to join Kier and accelerate their careers into management and leadership roles remains critical to us and we will continue to be open and transparent with our progress, by publishing our gender pay gap data annually.”

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