25th September 2023

National Inclusion Week with Irina Gales

In support of National Inclusion Week, Irina Gales, Senior Digital Construction Manager discusses her journey in construction, the changing landscape of the sector, and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

National Inclusion Week: "There’s still some way to go", says Irina Gales, Senior Digital Construction Manager.

Amongst the reasons why a Formula One car can drive so fast is because it is so well engineered. At the start of a car’s life, a team of engineers will pour over 3D models to ensure that every part of the car, from front to rear spoiler is as aerodynamic as possible. Today, similar 3D modelling techniques are being applied on construction sites across the country and it’s here where Irina Gales, senior digital construction manager at Sir Robert McAlpine, works.

Responsible for ensuring projects are delivered in line with a client’s digital requirements and wider industry standards, Irina has worked on several high-profile projects, including four years on the Phase 3a of Battersea Power Station and helping deliver the restoration of Elizabeth Tower. Today, Irina is working on the new Museum of London, but despite working on some of London’s most iconic landmarks, a career in construction hadn’t always been written in the stars.

“When I was younger, I always thought that I wanted to become an architect”, says Irina. On completing High School, Irina would go on to study Architectural Technology and Construction Management at university in Denmark, a degree that was evenly split between the two sectors. An architectural internship and experience working with BIM convinced Irina that, of the two sectors, it was construction that beckoned.

“I like the practical side of construction”, says Irina. “You have to find solutions to problems before facing them on site. It’s logical, which is how my brain works”.

Another appeal of the sector, in Irina’s opinion, is the sheer diversity of job roles. “If you’re interested in design, you can be a design manager. If you’re interested in digital technology, you can be a digital construction manager. If you’re interested in planning, you can be a planner”, she says.

But whilst construction may boast a clear diversity of job roles, when Irina first joined the industry around seven years ago, it was notably lacking in team diversity. “The sector needed to be brought into the 21st century”, says Irina. “When I first joined as a young woman from Romania I’d often look around and feel a little bit out of place”.

Happily, things have changed since Irina, who now co-chairs Sir Robert McAlpine’s Gender Affinity Network, first started working in the sector.

On recent projects I’ve been surrounded by lots of women and different nationalities, which brings new ideas and perspectives. What’s more, people are much more mindful of what they say; the importance of mental health; and the effects of office banter than they were a decade ago.

Irina Gales Senior Digital Construction Manager

For all the vital steps towards inclusion that the sector has taken, more clearly still needs to be done in a sector that remains male dominated. Though noting the success of the firm’s equality strategy, Irina argues that driving inclusion is not just a case of introducing new policies. “What we need is an attitudinal shift. There will always be more to be done and we’ll never have finally cracked ‘inclusivity’. If we are committed to doing our best, it should include holding each other to account”.

And one way individuals can ‘Take Action, Make Impact’, the theme of this year’s National Inclusion Week is by being careful of the language they use and by challenging peers to be the best version of themselves. Little things like opening a meeting that includes women and non-binary people with “hello gents” can, unwittingly, reinforce the very stereotypes the sector is trying to leave in the rear-view mirror.

Inclusivity, however, is not just a question of gender. As Irina notes, the inclusion of people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds is vital for a sector on whose horizon a skills shortage seems to loom. And one way of encouraging more young people into the sector, something Irina does through talks in schools is not just by demonstrating how varied and exciting a career in construction is, but, for the video-game generation in particular, showcasing the cutting-edge technology being deployed on site across the country.

When asked what advice she’d give to those considering a career in the sector, Irina is unequivocal: ‘do it’.




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