From cinemas to construction - my journey

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 8 March. Director Michelle Cotterill summarises why her journey and experiences can demonstrate how women in the construction industry make their own unique difference.

"What do cinemas and the construction industry have in common? If you were to have asked me this question in 2006, when I made the transition, I would have struggled to give you an answer.

"However, this didn’t stop me from taking on a position in HR at Willmott Dixon after more than ten years working for cinema companies – because I was confident that I would bring transferable skills and a unique perspective with me. I knew little about the construction industry before joining. My perception of building sites at that point was not completely positive but, over the past 18 years, that view has most definitely changed for the better and I will continue to share the reality of what it’s like to be involved wherever I can.

"Since joining Willmott Dixon I have undertaken a journey from my background in HR to becoming operations director – making me now responsible for overseeing the successful delivery of construction projects as well as contributing to board strategy. Along the way, I have worked in both national and regional roles, which have helped me realise where I thrive day-to-day. It’s the great people and challenging nature of the construction industry that keep me wanting more. Ensuring everyone has what they need to do their job to the best of their ability is a constantly rewarding task for me. What skills have helped me to progress? I would say emotional intelligence, an aptitude for learning, as well as constantly challenging myself about my own personal development and how I can help the business progress and move forward.

"One thing that has been clear throughout my time here is that there is an abundance of interesting, committed, and knowledgeable professionals working in the construction sector. With the industry regularly facing and overcoming new challenges, it is its increasing diversity that ensures we keep finding new solutions.

"I am fortunate, in my role, to have the opportunity to support others in achieving their potential while learning from them during the process. It’s the network around me that makes me the best I can be, which is why I always encourage others to make time to build their own network too. I have never assumed that I know everything and adopt the opposite mindset to ‘this is how we’ve always done it’. When combined, this approach means that I can regularly challenge myself and others to see what’s truly possible. Changing roles can be difficult, and understanding where you are making a difference can be hard. But knowing that I am responsible for encouraging others to play their part and achieve their best is hugely rewarding. It is really important to me that I make sure everyone remembers the value that they contribute to a team.

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The Millfield Green project team

"At Willmott Dixon, we have an unambiguous commitment to enhancing diversity and many ways to support people in overcoming potential barriers. But I would be naive to think that the same opportunities exist everywhere throughout the built environment sector and that the roles available are always visible to everyone.

"My hope is that the image of construction continues to be more widely seen as open, inviting, accessible and a fantastic place to have a career. For the challenges ahead of us to be turned into opportunities, we will need to think in new and innovative ways. There is a huge talent pool that will undoubtedly bring new ideas and perspectives to the table, and we need to make them see how great our industry is. To miss out on this talent would be a disaster for us all.

"We need to ensure we have diverse teams to deliver; it's our different ways of thinking that mean we find the creative solutions – and the world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same."

To find out more about a career with Willmott Dixon, click here.