Diversity & Inclusion

WiC: Serco Middle East’s Fiona Liddell

It’s important to continue encouraging females into the sector and to keep sharing the amazing CVs and profiles across your networks says Fiona Liddell

Following our special edition dedicated to women in the construction industry, Middle East Consultant continues to share the inspiration and experiences of women working in the male-dominated industry across the GCC. Here, we catch up with Fiona Liddell, head of Risk Management at Serco Middle East.

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?

I was job hunting after working in the Civil Service for a few years and looking for something a bit more interesting when a recruiter called me up and asked me if I was interested in a role with Atkins in Leeds (UK), very close to where I lived. A whole new world opened up for me from that day on and I have been working within this industry ever since.

Share a brief about your career, mentioning key achievements with regards to your role.

I’ve been lucky to have a varied career and experienced a number of job roles with my previous employer, Atkins, across the UK and UAE and with Serco over the past two years, a company that now feels like home. There have been a number of highlights and achievements along the way:

September 2012 was the biggest game changer for me when I was offered a role in Dubai within the Strategic Bid Team, originally as a Personal Assistant to the Director, which lead to me being involved in Major Bids during an exciting time where large complex Metro Design and Engineering projects were up for grabs. To be involved in successfully securing those awards for Riyadh and Doha Metro is something I am extremely proud of.

August 2015 my daughter Erin was born and my return to work 6 months later brought with it a new drive and number of highlights. A new opportunity opened up as a Regional QSSE Manager which I successfully positioned myself for by ensuring while I was working with one particular department, I did not ignore what else was going on. I made sure I knew what was happening across the business by networking and getting to know others across the various sectors and simply asking colleagues during lunch breaks and while attending other meetings actively finding out what your colleagues do and what they are working on at the moment it opens up a world of information and knowledge. Understanding the strategy and the business plans of the company you work for is critical to ensure you know why you are doing what you are doing everyday at task level and how this connects to the strategy and purpose of the organisation. Finding out what challenges other departments/sectors have and what and who the organisation wants to be now and in the future….service offerings, purpose and pipeline. This all helped me to achieve my promotion. Always ensure you know what value you can bring and how you are different to other candidates, ensure that comes across loud and clear in interviews.

March 2020 Joining Serco brings me to the current day…and WOW what a journey so far. I joined Serco as the pandemic hit and switched to working from home two weeks later. Meeting all my colleagues virtually and getting to know Serco from my own front room learning about systems, processes, services and the entire Serco wider business during a tough time kept me occupied. Originally joining as a Safety Manager and promoted within a short 2 years to Head of Risk with so many opportunities along the way and lots more to be had. I have no doubt this is where I will be aiming to make a difference for many years ahead.

Besides fairness and being the right thing to do, diversity in the construction industry is important because of the value women can bring to employers, clients and customers. How have you made your mark in the industry working on projects specifically (your proudest moment)?

I have two personal and two project related proud moments:

• Successfully mobilising a large complex team to deliver Doha Metro Design and Engineering Project with hundreds of employees relocating into Qatar from UK, Hong Kong and UAE.
• Being instrumental in securing award of the HSE Framework for Serco with one of Saudi Arabia’s largest giga projects.
• Supporting and encouraging a colleague to apply and successfully achieve an International Quality Award, believing in herself.
• Positive influencing and successfully Increasing paid Maternity leave from 45 days to 14 weeks at my previous company.

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

I think the way “it looks” from the outside and the fact it feels very male dominated but things move fast. Be the one to lead the way and believe you will be the first of many. My advice would be experience being the only female in the room or on site and attract attention to yourself – this is a positive thing – we all have the power to be the change. One thing I very actively do is share CVs of females within my network that reach out to me directly and support that CV getting to the right person whether its in my own organisation or through my networks.

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 earlier statement, please share your thoughts/views of the market.

The sector is making positive progress but there is always more to be done. I look around in Serco and see a huge number of amazing females around me leading the way (we have 50% female representation on our Executive Leadership Team) and we need to continue to be game changers. Continuing to encourage females into the sector and keep sharing the amazing CVs and profiles across your networks and within your own organisations and beyond. People are driving this…you and I we are the ones making a difference using our platforms, forums, leadership and networks to drive diversity across the sector. Keep going no matter how big or small – we are making a difference.

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?

Government and clients across the region could simply ask in RFPs “Have you conducted an equal pay review across your organisation? Has action been taken to ensure equal pay for males and females.”

Focus on your supply chain, if you feel something is not quite right with equal pay ensure you check and ask the question to your service providers and include this in contracts “ Do females and males doing the same role receive the same salary?” As leaders within this industry we should encourage our service providers to do this and follow through to make it happen.

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?

This is way more exciting!! I am sure you would agree the projects here just get better and better and the vision of the countries leaders just become even more incredible. It makes you want to be part of it all. Working across the UK mainly in the Energy sector I spent most of my time on Nuclear, Power and Oil and Gas projects so put me in front of Luxury Hotels, Grand Universities or Giga Cities and I’m in!

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

I have honestly never faced discrimination in my career…I have selected wisely the companies I work with. I will say this though, a friend of mine was asked during an interview by the female who was interviewing her “you don’t plan on getting pregnant do you?” and I advised my friend to decline the offer as it appeared not to be a good company to work for. In fact my friend took the role and when she did have a baby the company was extremely supportive during her pregnancy and beyond and she has now been promoted and is absolutely excelling in her role. Sometimes people are not aware they are being discriminative, so give everyone a chance to learn and don’t let one bad question be a total reflection of the organisation, find out more.

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

Absolutely not… the opportunities are endless here and across the world with Serco with the business growing so fast.

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 am connected with a UAE D&I Network who hold regular meetings and share best practice on what action is happening in their own organisations. The focus is not limited to one topic and does cover equal pay. I personally take action and voice concerns where I see inequality with pay particularly with our service providers working closely with our procurement team. I also focus on these areas in particular during Compliance Reviews in line with our Serco Supplier Code of Conduct focusing on pay and recruitment practices focusing on ethics and also compliance with labour law. Serco also run a Contractors Forum with our Service providers and focus on key challenges in the organisations.

This interview originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Middle East Consultant.

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