Women have a big role to play to prove their capabilities in the field they chose to conquer in their career
“Persistence and determination are omnipotent. This is my advice to any individual, regardless of gender…”
As part of the Women in Construction series, JT+Partners’ Lama Harb about her influences, career and gender diversity in the construction industry at large
What drove you to get into construction and your very first role in the industry? What were some of the influences that set you on your path?
Looking back at my professional career over two decades, what attracted me to architecture was my interest in details and how things are put carefully together to reach an innovative goal. A statement from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is always in my mind, “Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.”
Today, I can say that architecture as a subject and a profession has never stopped amazing me, as throughout the years it has exposed you to a rainbow of diversity. In doing so, it shapes your personality through art creation, culture knowledge and societal influence. This has been my motivation and passion for all these years.
Tell us about your career, mentioning key milestones.
I started my professional career back home in Beirut at the age of 23 directly after graduation. I joined my professor’s architecture practice as a junior architect, where I was the only female and surrounded by older architects with over 25 years of experience.
On one side, it was very hard as a fresh-graduate to cope with their pace and background but on the other hand, it exposed me to valuable experience and I was determined to stand for myself and fill my own basket with the right experience quickly. I left this practice as a project architect to join an international firm (WS Atkins), where I reached the level of principal architect, leading more than 20 architects from seniors to juniors. Having climbed the ladder of my career path as a woman, I have been selected as a board member in the Women Business Network, where I was working on the mentoring program.
Joining the JT+Partners team, I experience different challenges but I am always supported by internal motivation and passion. Serving as the right hand of our MD Joe Tabet, who I’ve been working with for more than 10 years, is a great opportunity to explore a different color in the architecture rainbow of diversity and practice. I will say that smart, hard work is always rewarded by more opportunities, respect and the trust of others.
What would you say is your proudest moment in the industry?
I am proud of where I am; I can’t think of only one proud moment. I am proud of every step I’ve taken during my career path, even when I’ve missed out, as it taught me how to succeed in the next challenge. It’s important to define yourself by your work; I am focused on delivering quality projects in all aspects, specifically in responding to the client’s vision, as well as creating a unique journey for end users through designs that respect the society, culture and the environmental conditions.
It’s important to be honest and responsible; gaining the trust of the people you are working with is key for me. It facilitates communication with the client, enhances the team’s work spirit and creates a healthy environment between all parties.
What are some of the barriers to women entering the construction industry? What was your personal experience?
I believe in every profession there are barriers that you will face during your career development, regardless of the gender. Therefore, like any other individual, women have to stand for themselves and be up to their professional choices to overcome any barriers.
How do you see the GCC construction markets changing in the coming years? Share your thoughts and views of the market.
Architecture was known in history as a male profession. However, nowadays the number of women choosing architecture as a major is increasing considerably, which is reflecting in the professional practices. In JT+Partners, we have almost reached equilibrium in terms of numbers (male/female) and more importantly with regards to positions.
Everyone has a part to play in diversity and equal pay. What would you like to see government authorities and construction firms do to increase diversity and make pay a level playing field?
I believe the rulers of the UAE have given a very strong message to the professional community in the region by the recent appointment of nine women ministers who now form 28% of the UAE Cabinet. This strong statement will have a positive translation in the market in regards of the role of women in the GCC market in all its sectors. It will also change the stereotype of the non-working women or, in other words, women not allowed to work in this part of the world.
Besides authorities and construction firms, who else can play a part in increasing diversity and balancing pay scales?
Women themselves have a big role to play to prove their capabilities and their ability to be of high competence in the field they chose to conquer in their professional career.
As a woman in the industry, what has your experience been working in the GCC construction sector? If you have worked in markets outside the GCC, how does your experience here compare with what you’ve experienced and observed in other markets?
Any practice, country and culture will have its specific work style and standards, which will be different from one another, but what should be common ground are the human and professional ethics. Having been in the UAE for more than 10 years, I have been exposed to opportunities where each held a dream project. The scale of work and level of experience offered in the market is tempting for any professional to develop his or her career path.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge women in the construction sector face in GCC countries? How can these challenges be addressed?
The biggest challenge is the fact that women have to really prove their capabilities and competency at any level, while men are seen as having the capabilities and required competency for a wide variety of jobs.
In doing your job, what sort of discrimination (if any) have you faced and how did you/employer address it?
Any individual might face a form of discrimination in their professional career. In my case, I haven’t experienced any serious discrimination.
Do you feel there’s a limit with regards to how far you can progress within JT+Partners?
Joe always mentions that in JT+Partners the sky is not the limit. There are opportunities for every team member to develop their career and that is part of the ethos of growing our practice. From another side and from my position in the company, one of my responsibilities is to ensure the development of the team and to create opportunities for their progress.
How does the firm you currently work for approach diversity in the workplace? What more can your firm do to increase diversity?
Our team is very diverse at all levels; gender, nationalities, background specialty and experience. This is the strategy at JT+Partners.
How do you personally push for diversity and equal pay in the construction sector? Are you involved in any groups/councils etc. that focus on increasing diversity and equal pay?
I was board member in the WBN (Women Business Network) in my previous workplace, which was focused on supporting diversity and the growth of women in the company. Currently, I am not part of any groups or councils.
What advice would you give to a woman entering the GCC construction industry today?
Persistence and determination are omnipotent. This is my advice to any individual, regardless of gender.
To support the drive towards gender balance in the industry, Middle East Consultant and meconstructionnews.com are highlighting female construction professionals in a series of profiles. By telling their stories and sharing their experiences on our print and digital platforms, we hope to inspire more women to join this vibrant industry.