WiC: Serco Middle East’s 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?

I first came across Atkins Design and Engineering Consultancy in Leeds which had a head office based 10 minutes from where I lived. I was job hunting after working in the Civil Service for a few years and looking for something a bit more interesting and a recruiter called me up and asked me if I was interested in a role with Atkins. A whole new world opened up for me from that day on.

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

Most of my career to date I spent with Atkins between Leeds and the UAE with some absolutely incredible opportunities and highlights along the way, and then recently the last two years of my career with Serco which for me feels like home.

September 2012 was the biggest game changer for me when I was offered a role in the Atkins Dubai office, working in the Strategic Bid Team originally as a personal assistant to the director, which led 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’m extremely proud of.

August 2015 my daughter Erin was born and my return to work six months later brought with it a new drive and number of highlights. New opportunities opened up as a regional QSSE manager which I successfully positioned myself for and secured, and a change in the maternity policy increasing the number of paid days off from 45 days to 14 weeks positively impacted new mothers.

March 2020 saw me joining Serco, which brings me to the current day…and wow, what a journey it has been so far. I joined Serco as the pandemic hit and went home to work 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 two 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?

I have a two personal and two project related proud moments:

1. 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 the UAE
2. Successfully securing the award of the HSE Framework for Serco with NEOM
3. Supporting and encouraging a colleague to apply and successfully achieve an International Quality Award, believing in herself
4. Positive influencing and successfully increasing paid maternity leave from 45 days to 14 weeks at Atkins

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

I think it’s 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. Experience being the only female in the room or onsite and attract attention to yourself – this is a positive thing and you should 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 it’s 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 this statement, 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 and we need to be continuing to be game changers.

It’s important to continue encouraging females into the sector and to keep sharing the amazing CVs and profiles across your networks, within your own organisations and beyond. People are driving this…you and I are the ones making a difference using our platforms, forums, leadership and networks to drive diversity across the sector. It’s important to keep going no matter how big or small a difference we are making.

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?’ or ‘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’. It’s important to encourage 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 a luxury hotel, a grand university or some of the tallest structure in the world 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, so I think 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 lady who was interviewing her) ‘You aren’t planning on getting pregnant are you?’. I advised my friend to decline this offer as this is not a good company to work for. But in fact, my friend took the role and she did have a baby but the company were 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. It’s vital to 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’m 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, ethics and also compliance with labour law. Serco runs a Contractors Forum with its service providers and focus on key challenges in the organisations.

The post WiC: Serco Middle East’s Fiona Liddell appeared first on Middle East Construction News.

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