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Spotlight feature: Sophie Smith

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It is our pleasure to present Sophie Smith, Building Surveyor, Infrastructure from WS Atkins plc, with the Best New Comer (Individual) Award.

Probably most women everywhere – know only too well how hard it is to get ahead as a woman, even in this day and age. If the gender gap wasn’t large enough already, then spare a thought for women who work in construction, an industry that is known as predominantly male.

Luckily, we have people like Sophie Smith leading the way for women struggling to get ahead. Having been in the industry for over 9 years, Sophie has made an exceptional contribution to the construction and engineering industries.

She has personally driven innovative key changes and initiatives to encourage a diverse workforce, both with personal support, professional initiatives and practical solutions. She is an inspirational role model for all women in the PPE industry.

Louise Joy, Feature and Profile Sales Editor at director-e, spoke to Sophie about getting ahead in the construction industry, the Professional Clothing Awards, and her short, but sweet, stint on Come Dine With Me.

  1. You’ve been in the industry for around nine years now, and despite it being a very male orientated industry, you haven’t let it hold you back. Can you tell me more about this? Do you feel like you have to prove yourself a little bit more because you’re female?
    I have been in this fantastic profession for almost a decade and I believe I have made an exceptional contribution to the construction and engineering industries. There have been some barriers to overcome during that time, which is why I am passionate about challenging that now.

[QUOTE OUT]
“ Throughout the UK, women only represent 11% in the construction industry, a figure which I hope, through hard work, we can improve on.”

The success in attracting women to construction and engineering can only truly be measured by assessing the next generation’s career choices, and through the hard work we are doing now. It’s an exciting time for anyone to be working in this environment, as we move forward with the diversity and inclusion agenda. I have personally driven innovative key changes and initiatives to encourage a diverse workforce, both with personal support, professional initiatives and practical solutions that will influence who enters and stays in our profession.

  1. You’ve been dubbed an ambassador for women in the work wear industry. How does this make you feel?
    I am very proud to be highlighted by the workwear community as an ambassador for women.  I have continued to work hard for change and encourage others to join me, leading the way for women by getting the message out there.  The workwear industry must support inclusivity in our industries by making PPE for all, so everyone can ‘fit in’.

When I was taking an apprenticeship in building control, I was the only woman in a class of 30 on the Higher National Certificate in Construction course.  Having a key female role model at that time was instrumental in encouraging me in my career.  I hope to promote the ethos of role models and ambassadors to the wider community, to ultimately inspire more women into the trade.

I work extremely hard to make an impact across our industry, but ultimately, I believe we can all contribute to the change in the profession and it is everyone’s responsibility to encourage an inclusive work environment.

  1. Are there any other ladies in the industry you’d like to mention and shine a light on?
    I have many fantastic female role models! The first female role model I experienced was Chartered Surveyor, Debbie Copeland. She was introduced to me by my HNC lecturer, Craig Bloxsome, who could see I did not have a female role model and needed to meet someone who had already paved the way.

More recently in my career I have been incredibly inspired and influenced by the second ever female president of the RICS, Amanda Clack. She is relentless in promoting building surveying as a profession, and works extremely hard to push the diversity agenda.

  1. In early 2017, you designed something called the Sophie Shoe! Can you tell me more about the process behind this?
    Keen to challenge the concept of unisex fittings, I collaborated with a leading UK safety footwear wholesaler, Footsure Western Ltd, to work on a specific female safety shoe that was affordable, comfortable and commercially viable.

As a consultant in the field, I offered an expert role on style and functionality for the Sophie Shoe.  I worked closely with the brand managers of Amblers Safety and the product development team to create a comfortable slip resistant, steel toe cap shoe with feminine finishes.

I have had a substantial amount of feedback as a result of launching the shoe as it’s proven to be versatile and crossed over to other industries requiring PPE for women.  Launching the Amblers Safety FS706 Sophie Shoe has led to a sister style, the AS601C Lydia for women who would like a boot version.

  1. You said in your bio that you won Come Dine With Me – what was that like? What did you cook?
    Appearing on Come Dine With Me was one of my most random, but rewarding experiences to date. I had a truly fantastic time and a lot of this was down to the people; the other contestants were so authentic and interesting, and the production team were lovely. I cooked crab tian for a starter, lemon and thyme chicken thighs with parmentier potatoes for main, and chocolate fondant for pudding. I chose a cheaper cut of meat (chicken thighs) for my main to prove that all cuts are tasty and not to waste meat. This came from when I worked as a Saturday girl at my local butchers from the age of 12-17, I even butchered the chicken on the show! One of the best parts of the experience with the exception of winning, was the platform to show a different face of the construction industry. I had many messages after from young girls showing an interest in career opportunities.
  2. Are you looking forward to this year’s Professional Clothing Awards?
    I am absolutely looking forward to this year’s Professional Clothing Awards, it is the event of the year! Yvette and the team make sure no expense is spared at the awards and it is an evening full of celebration and inspiration. I am looking forward to welcoming my employer Atkins to this prestigious event and hope to promote construction and engineering amongst the industries that benefit and celebrate professional clothing, as without it we could not operate.
  3. Do you have any advice for any young women who want to break into the industry or those struggling to get ahead?
    My advice is to be yourself. I remember starting in the industry and trying to be something different and try and act and dress like a man, now I am myself and comfortable in my skin. I have gone from strength to strength and have no limits to my dreams and aspirations.

[QUOTE OUT] “Now is a fantastic time to be in the industry and the diversity and inclusion agenda is strong and starting to be sewn into the cultures of the workplace.”

If you feel you are being held back, firstly, have a positive attitude. Secondly, find yourself a mentor as they are absolutely invaluable to many people’s career progression. Finally make sure you are clear on your career goals and where you want to be, and with that write a plan of everything you can do to get there.