29 June 2021

Emma Porter: 'I encourage a culture of high challenge and high support'

Story Contracting’s Emma Porter provides insight into her experiences of leadership, gender diversity in construction and advice for starting up a career in the industry.


By Jessica Leary, Westlakes Recruit

Emma Porter, the Managing Director for the Construction Division at Story Contracting, has worked in various roles within the construction industry for 14 years. 


Emma’s division delivers around £30 million of largely civils work for manufacturing clients, house builders, local authority and rail clients. 


What do you enjoy the most about being in your role? 


I love developing team spirit, the right behaviours and people. We’ve a very strong work ethic and open supportive culture in the construction team that I’m very proud of. I also enjoy how much variety there is in contracting. No two jobs are the same and there are always unexpected challenges along the way meaning we need to be responsive and solution focused. We also have a great working relationship with our clients and supply chain that I’m proud of. My main focus is on people, culture and clients.


Reflecting on your career so far, how would you describe your journey in the construction industry? 


I think there are two things that I’ve changed my approach to on my career journey so far. The first is increasing confidence in my own approach to leadership. I used to think there were elements of ‘good’ leadership that I wasn’t doing well. Being a tough negotiator for example. A combination of the business school I attended, my experience at Arup and just a growing confidence in my own abilities has made me much more comfortable in leading in my own way with a strong focus on developing people and seeking to understand. I encourage a culture of high challenge and high support. 


The second is that when I first started working in construction I really wasn’t interested in any women’s networks or women in construction events. I didn’t want to be treated differently and wanted to beat the boys fair and square without a helping hand. As I’ve moved through my career though and I see less and less women at the table I’ve started to realise that these networks and events are not about favouritism or helping hands; they are about understanding and removing the barriers that mean it’s not a fair race.


According to The Chartered Institute of Building, women make up only around 13% of construction sector workers. CIOB also state that of those, 1-2% work on-site. What do you think will assist the construction industry in becoming more diverse and inclusive in its workforce? 


More flexible working hours, apprenticeships for over 25’s, more communication of why gender diversity is important and why it’s good for everyone, much stronger commitments to achieving gender diversity, more representation of women in construction in posters, adverts and other media, unconscious bias training for senior managers and increased awareness in schools for the opportunities there are in construction (initiatives like Go Construct are great).


What measures do Story Contracting have in place to increase diversity in the hiring process that could inspire other companies to do the same?


We are working hard to embed into common practice the awareness of the language and images used in adverts and we’re always looking for new and different places to advertise to ensure we are getting our adverts out as widely as possible.
We are also promoting our agile working policies and flexible working and encourage diversity on shortlisting and interview panels, and developing training including the benefits of diverse teams to all managers involved in the recruitment process. As well as this, we ensure regular communications externally promoting our business as welcoming and inclusive. 


What advice would you give to young aspiring females who would like to start a career in the construction industry? 


You’ll be amazed how willing people are to share their knowledge; try and find a mentor who you can talk to and ask for advice. Believe in yourself and the value you can bring to a team. Attitude, work ethic, willingness to learn and communication skills are all more important than having exactly the right experience. Have a go at a role when you can do most of it; you don’t have to wait until you can do it all.  Be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Realise that most people are not as confident as they look (watch the Amy Cuddy Ted Talk). Despite the challenges it is a very rewarding and fun industry. I thoroughly enjoy my work and feel valued and supported by the people I work with, despite being addressed as 'sir' occasionally. It is worth getting over the barriers.

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