Meet the women in construction laying the foundation for sound business


Morag Evans is the CEO of Databuild, a leading knowledge hub and intellectual capital specialist focused on construction and allied industries.  She joined the company in 1992 and worked up through the ranks until her appointment as CEO in 2002 – Evans epitomises the strength of female professionals in these industries.

Evans started as a personal assistant. It has taken time, persistence, hard work and dedication, but in the end has facilitated the company’s evolution from a lead tracker of residential, building and civil projects to a one-stop source of intelligence for all stakeholders in these industries.

Like every sector and industry, there are positive and negative aspects associated with these traditionally male-dominated industries. Evans has used her business acumen and strong sense of intuition to carve out a strong and dominant position which allows her to enjoy the positives and brush off the negatives.

“A definite positive is the variety of clients we meet. I particularly enjoy visiting their facilities and factories and learning more about their operations and product offerings. There are so many different aspects to construction, but I especially love the creative side of it – that over time you get to see the end result of all the work that has gone into a specific project,” said Evans.

“I also love the fact that the construction industry has the potential to positively impact our country’s economy in so many ways, for example, the creation of jobs, skills development and reducing our carbon footprint.  The challenge lies in ensuring that we successfully harness all these opportunities.”

Challenges abound

Evans is straightforward in her assessment of construction. She says that government has been slow to deliver on its promises of increased spending on infrastructure development and this is severely hampering the industry’s recovery.

“The ongoing war in Ukraine – which is showing no signs of ending anytime soon – has also wreaked havoc on supply chains. Where previously it took weeks to procure building materials and equipment, contractors are now having to wait months for their orders to arrive. Not only are procurement and delivery costs higher as a result, but projects are being delayed and in some instances, even cancelled, placing even more financial pressure on stakeholders and negatively impacting company reputations. But every challenge brings an opportunity and now, more than ever before, South African contractors need to support local manufacturers and help them reclaim the production of goods and commodities that were previously imported,” Evans continued. Climate change presents another opportunity for South Africa’s construction industry, she said.

“Rather than wait for government to legislate the reduction of embodied carbon, construction companies need to lead by example and proactively work to minimise harmful practices that negatively impact the carbon footprint of buildings. This includes making smart choices around building design, the manufacture and supply of products and materials, and construction activities and processes on site.”

In addition to these day-to-day operational challenges, these industries are still unequal in terms of gender representation. 

Evans says the focus should be on creating initiatives and programmes to educate women on the career opportunities and this will go a long way towards boosting diversity. She feels there are just way too many stereotypes that hamper efforts to eradicate barriers.

“The fact that women comprise only eleven percent of the country’s total construction workforce is largely driven by stereotypes which stigmatise the employment of women in the industry. This needs to change.  While it is true that a large portion of construction work is physically challenging, this does not mean that women can’t or don’t want to work in construction. There is so much more to the industry than the loading and unloading of heavy building materials, erecting scaffolding and removing debris from a building site. Numerous other roles exist to which women can aspire, such as procurement, project management, health and safety, surveying and estimating, to name a few.”

A balanced outlook

The inclusion of more women in construction will help to alleviate the critical skills shortage that currently plagues the industry. Rather than ‘importing’ these skills from other countries we should focus on placing women in these roles.

A report published by management consulting company McKinsey & Co in 2020 reveals that gender-diverse companies are 25 percent more likely to achieve above-average profitability than their less diverse counterparts.

Evans feels women have fought hard to overcome gender stereotypes and achieve equality in the workplace – and rightly so – but this doesn’t mean that all women want a job which is traditionally performed by a man.

“Some women choose to study architecture, engineering or other professions usually associated with construction, and I firmly believe they can add great value because women contribute a different dynamic, but the truth is that some jobs are better suited to men and others to women, simply because of our differing physiological and psychological makeup.  Science has shown that women are biologically wired to nurture while men are natural providers and protectors. This doesn’t mean we can’t swop roles when necessity dictates it, but at the end of the day everyone should play to their strengths.”

For Evans, it is not a matter of whether or not to pursue a career in construction, the issue is more about respect for personal choice… wherever that may lead.

“All too often these days women are made to feel they are betraying the gender equality movement by not aspiring to a high-profile career, but if a woman chooses to be a stay-at-home mom her choice should be respected. We should be proud of our femininity and not feel compelled to imitate masculine traits. I encourage all women to pursue a career in construction – if that is what their heart is telling them to do. Women can achieve as much success in the construction industry as any man, and should never let any preconceived ideas stand in their way.”

Morag Evans, CEO of Databuild.