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  • Women of Oktra: Abigail, Zara, Brooke, Esther and Clare

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  • We’re highlighting the voices of some of the inspirational women working at Oktra, who make the amazing workspaces we create come to life.

    As of the last quarter of 2020, only 13% of people working in the UK construction industry were women. In the final part of our article series, we’re speaking to the women leading design and build: women from departments across the whole of Oktra, whether in project direction, our finance department or on site – these are the people who make our inspirational spaces happen. Read to find out more about their careers and hopes for the future of the industry, as well as advice they’d give to women starting out today.

  • Abigail Rooke, Project Director Stafford

    I’m from a sales background, so I finished university and then trained in sales, before starting work in business development in design and build. I was working with quite a large company over in Manchester for a few years, and then last year I was approached by Oktra for the role of Project Director. I love my job: I love building relationships, meeting new people, working with clients to realise what they want. Delivering the outcome a client wanted and seeing their face at the end of a project, knowing you’ve exceeded their expectations, is a really great feeling.

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  • I’m responsible for a lot of our working relationships throughout the industry, and I also manage our client relationships. Once we have that first meeting with the client, I help to manage the process of making sure we match what the client needs, and strategising how we can best win and deliver that project for them. I also really love collaborating and working with the team, and that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to in the near future, seeing everyone more often in person, and getting to meet with clients and people in the industry over a beer or a glass of wine!

    If I had to give any advice to women coming into this industry, because it can still be quite a male-dominated environment, I would say make sure not to limit your ambitions, and remember to believe in yourself, always be open-minded and stay open to learning new things.

  • ‘Make sure not to limit your ambitions, and remember to believe in yourself’

    Oktra

    Abigail Rooke, Project Director

  • Zara Dale, Senior Commercial Manager London

    I’ve been in the construction industry for thirteen years now. Time flies! I started off my journey on the client side, but then decided I wanted to go into contracting, because I always felt that staying on site looked really fun, right in the thick of things, and I liked the idea of seeing a project the whole way through. So I went over to the traditional side and worked for a contractor, gained a lot of experience in high-end residential and commercial fit outs, and now I’ve been in the design and build world for the last two years. Right now, we’re finishing up work on the One Portsoken project, which has been an incredible journey, and is looking really good.

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  • Construction never ceases to amaze me. Within about 48 hours a whole project can just come together, and it never fails to surprise me how quickly things get done in a collaborative environment. I think what I love about my job is that every day is different: you’re always coming up against different questions, different challenges. And it’s just never boring! As a surveyor, the stereotype is that I sit behind my desk all day on Excel spreadsheets, and although of course that is an important part, I also get to see a whole range of different kinds of construction and meet different people, build new relationships.

    I’ve definitely seen a change in the last 10 years, but there’s a long way to go, and I think we do need more male allies. I’m currently mentoring a younger woman, Chloe Peck, through Oktra, which is great, because I know how much I’d have appreciated a mentor when I first started in construction. I’m excited about seeing more women in power, in roles where the decisions are made. We’ve got to break down these gender biases, challenge the status quo and be more present and make those decisions! It’s my personal mission at the moment to raise women up.

  • ‘Construction never ceases to amaze me’

    Oktra

    Zara Dale, Senior Commercial Manager

  • Brooke Johnson, Project Administrator London

    I’ve been in design and build for about six years now. Before Oktra, I was with two other quite large companies, and then I actually took a year out to see if it was what I definitely wanted to do. After a year I realised just how much I missed design and build, and then Oktra came up and I thought it was an amazing opportunity: a different role but in a similar area to what I’d done before. As a Project Administrator, we manage everything surrounding the project set-up: it’s a really varied role, so you might come in on Monday and know you’re starting work on a new project, or you might be working with Graphics to help them with a specific document we’re creating for tender, or even be sitting down with a contract—no two days are the same, which is something I really love about it.

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  • Everyone knows this about me, that I’ve always wanted to be a property developer, and this role covers so many of the little things that I probably wouldn’t ever have learned otherwise. Knowing the industry, being able to gauge prices, knowing who you work well with—even learning how to use software like BIM 360, a major piece of construction software—these are all skills you get to carry with you.

    If I had to give advice to women coming into construction, I’d say learn as much as you can! Don’t forget your ultimate goals and realise that the people around you want to support you and help you get there. I think sometimes women also feel like they have to have all of these qualifications to go into construction because it’s a bit of a man’s world, but there are so many women project managers now, and if it’s something you want, you should go for it!

  • ‘Learn as much as you can, and don’t forget your ultimate goals’

    Oktra

    Brooke Johnson, Project Administrator

  • Esther Brown, Project Manager London

    I’ve been at Oktra for about 20 months now, and in that time I’ve delivered seven jobs, with another two currently on site and one more starting in a couple of weeks, so we’ve been pretty busy! My background is in traditional build, although my educational background is in child psychology. I love how dynamic my job is, and the tangible aspects of it are what I enjoy most: I always say to clients that I’ve got the best part of the process because I’m bringing these amazing designs to life, that they become something you can go and touch and feel and live in. My favourite part is the moment when you’ve delivered a job and you bring the client in and just see their face light up, but it’s also just so interesting when you go back and see how the building’s being used, how people are enjoying it and bringing in their own personalities.

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  • As Project Manager, I’m responsible for delivering the schemes, but I like to get involved early on, just to make sure the client can put a face to a name, and so that my part of the process is in really good shape. And then, once we hit sites, I’m responsible for the project: I bring together the subcontractors and manage that process, and make sure we finish with a happy client along the way. What’s most different for me in design and build is that with the construction jobs I’ve worked on before you’re there for maybe two years, and with Oktra we’re on site for maybe three or four months; but even though it’s faster-paced, you still build these lovely relationships with your client, your team, and the subcontractor team you’re working with. Everyone’s got pride in it, and it’s a great job when you can stand back and see exactly what you’ve pulled together and delivered.

    If I had to give any advice to women coming into Project Management, I would say, historically we think of being out on site as a male-dominated environment, and some people feel like they have to prove themselves a bit more. Just remember that you’re good at your job, because you wouldn’t be here otherwise, and don’t see who you are as an obstacle, remember to just be yourself.

  • ‘I always say to clients that I’ve got the best part of the process because I’m bringing these amazing designs to life’

    Oktra

    Esther Brown, Project Manager

  • Clare Chapman, Purchase Ledger Clerk London

    I started at Oktra when I was nineteen—my first job in London! I did something like six interviews in two days, and was looking forward to my first financially immersive role, where I would focus in on the beginnings of my career. When I came to the Oktra office, it was completely different to other places I interviewed. Everyone was really friendly and sociable, and it felt really easy the second I walked in: I felt like it was somewhere I could sink into and really get involved. And here I am, three years later!

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  • As Purchase Ledger Clerk, I deal mostly with our suppliers and the subcontractors we work with on site, organising payment and invoices as well as liaising with directors and project managers to resolve any queries that pop up. I’m also working alongside Caroline Bradshaw, who’s mentoring me into more early management accounts work.

    One of the best parts of my job is the people I work with: I’m so lucky in that we’re an eight women strong team, covering a range of ages, backgrounds, and work experiences, and that there are so many role models I can look to. Right now, I’m halfway through my ACCA qualification, which is a big milestone for me, and I’m excited to continue that and hopefully use everything I’m learning to really grow with Oktra.

    If I had to give advice to women coming into this field, I’d say to have confidence in everything you do. You have to be sure of yourself so that the people you’re working with can have confidence in you as well, and then, when you’re not sure, remember it’s not a weakness to ask for help, it’s actually a really important way to learn.

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