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Women in Construction: ALEC’s Dana Itani

“I think government authorities and construction firms need to amplify success stories of women in this industry”

“Diversity is the key driver to innovation which is really needed in our industry. In my opinion, women, in any industry or role, acquire a lot of skills and values both intellectual and physical. In my specific case, I believe that I can integrate empathy, tolerance and patience in an industry which somewhat lacks these qualities….”

As part of the Women in Construction series, ALEC’s Dana Itani talks about her influencers, career and gender diversity in the construction industry…

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?

Working in the construction industry was a passion that started at an early age. I used to visit construction sites with my father and then try to create similar structures with LEGO models. As I got closer to choosing my career path, the passion I had for the profession had grown much more and I knew I had to join the construction industry and build things of my own.

Since I graduated in 2016, I’ve had the chance to work on a couple of projects in construction. During my senior year, I started working with a group of senior multi-disciplinary students on the topic of concrete 3D printing and introducing robotics to construction sites. A robot was designed and concrete printing was tested on small scale structures. On this project, the group won the EBDAA competition and was accepted to present the outcome of the research and experimental work at the American University of Beirut 2016 School of Engineering conference.

Currently, and for the past year, I have been working with ALEC as a site engineer at the Marina Gate project. I am in charge of the podium levels which includes luxury villas, landscape and kids’ area, swimming pools and jacuzzi, retail units, gym area and various sport courts. Marina Gate One has been handed over successfully and now I am heading towards a new journey at the Marina Gate Two project.

What would you say is your proudest moment in the industry?

I think one of my proudest moments was during the hand over of Marina Gate One, as I felt that I succeeded in my role and gained the trust of my team. I think diversity is the key driver to innovation which is really needed in our industry. In my opinion, women, in any industry or role, acquire a lot of skills and values both intellectual and physical. In my specific case, I believe that I can integrate empathy, tolerance and patience in an industry which somewhat lacks these qualities.

What are some of the barriers to women entering the construction industry? What was your personal experience?

During my first month in my current role it was very clear to me that being a female on site was new and un-familiar to the workforce. Many groups from the workforce used to come and ask if I was a designer or if I was working with the marketing team of the client. The answer of ‘No, I am the new site engineer’ was often confusing to them. I think this is understandable because construction has always been a male dominated industry for a long time, which created a certain stereotype. For most people, the perception of a job in construction will always be linked with the image of a man wearing his safety vest, helmet and dusty pants, which in turn makes it less appealing to young females.

The GCC construction sector is still male dominated, however diversity is beginning to increase. If you agree with the above line, comment on what is driving this and how you see the GCC markets changing in the coming years? If you do not agree with the first line of this question, please share your thoughts/views of the market.

I think that it is shocking that in the 21st century women in construction are less than 10% of the entire workforce with most females having desk jobs in design, consulting, planning etc. The GCC construction market should keep on encouraging females to become part of the industry.

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 think government authorities and construction firms need to amplify success stories of women in this industry, in the hope that these stories will reach young women across the region and encourage them to join the industry.

Besides authorities and construction firms, who else can play a part in increasing diversity and balancing pay scales?

Professors, career coaches and, most importantly, the media play a major role in shedding light on the experiences, challenges and success stories of women in the industry. If young females cannot relate to female role models who have created a huge impact on their surroundings, they will not be encouraged to pursue a similar career path.

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?

Projects in the GCC are wide in scope and value and have tight deadlines (compared to projects back in Lebanon) and this is something that encouraged me to relocate to Dubai. Those facts about the market here makes the construction industry more demanding, but at the same time more challenging and exciting. Quality standards and governmental regulations specifically regarding health and safety, sustainability and fire fighting is very advanced. One of the greatest challenges in construction in the GCC is communication, mainly due to the diversity of the workforce and the sheer number of people involved on projects.

What is the biggest challenge women in the construction sector face in GCC countries? How can these challenges be addressed?

One of the biggest challenges women may face in the construction sector is the ability to establish credibility and authority in an environment that is typically male-dominated. Difficult as it may be, I believe it is something any woman can overcome with time, as she proves her capabilities in leading a team, getting the job done and ultimately gaining the trust and respect of the workforce.

In doing your job, what sort of discrimination (if any) have you faced and how did AELC address it?

I did not face any.

Do you feel there’s a limit with regards to how far you can progress within ALEC?

I think that if anyone is ambitious enough in their job, combined with exceptional work performance, they will not see any limits in their career progression.

How does the firm you currently work for approach diversity in the workplace? What more can your firm do to increase diversity?

ALEC promotes equality between males and females on a daily basis and evaluates their employees’ work based on the added value regardless of gender. In addition, I believe ALEC is aware of the importance of diversity in the industry as in the past year, I have met a lot of female colleagues working in different roles and on different sites.

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?

Within my social circle and all the female interns I meet, I try as much as possible to draw a different image to a female work on site. I also try to share a lot of successful proud moments and personal experience that might encourage young females more to challenge the current situation of the market and always follow their passion.

What advice would you give to a woman entering the GCC construction industry today?

The fact that there aren’t a lot of women in construction will differentiate us and provide us with an opportunity to be role models to a lot of young females. I encourage them to trust their capabilities, be comfortable being themselves and be proud of the job and the great industry that they are part of.

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.

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