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2 APR 2020

Candy Lai talks about her achievements in UK and Hong Kong construction

Gus Bussmann

Gus Bussmann

Diversity and Inclusion Co-ordinator

RICS

Candy Lai is a director and regional GPMO lead in Arcadis Asia. She is an account leader responsible for service quality, resource performance and financial performance across programme, project and cost management.

Candy obtained her MRICS status in UK with international experiences across all areas of construction and consultancy. She has taken up leading roles in projects involving major financial institutions and public corporate frameworks as well as private and public buildings. Her experience covers an extensive scope of works and has serviced global clients including new build and fitting out projects in the residential, hotel, retail and commercial sectors.

Currently she is the GPMO lead for a major global financial institution, where she works with teams of multi-functional professionals in corporate real estate. 

She spoke with Gus Bussmann, our D&I coordinator, about challenges and achievements as a woman in construction:

Why are there so few women working in construction? Can you tell us a bit of your journey and experience?

The industry certainly has changed with more women working in construction now, compared to when I first left university and kicked off my career in London. In general, people’s behaviour and the language used today are both far more gender considerate and a lot less masculine. While this has enticed more women into the industry, it could be due to societal changes, more so than the industry itself. All over the world, people are fighting for gender equality, equal pay, and job opportunities, and we see changes in law which leads society to act differently. There are more women in leadership positions than ever before, but the construction industry is still dominated by our male colleagues. There may be many reasons for this; it could be cultural differences, people’s upbringing, education or training opportunities. Let’s not forget the pre-existing stereotype that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. It creates both conscious and unconscious bias, which affects perceptions of women working in some roles that have traditionally been filled by men.

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Candy Lai
Candy Lai

I grew up in a traditional Hong Kong family, and my parents’ career advice from an early age was to be a ‘professional’, so my first career goal was set early. My family moved to the UK when I was a teenager, and after graduating with a degree in quantity surveying, I joined a small local business for a year as graduate QS, and within a very short time period I was solely responsible for the projects of a local council. A year later I joined one of the top five building consultancy firms in the UK based in London, where I stayed for many years before relocating to Hong Kong. During my time in London, I gained experience working with a lot of highly regarded professionals and market leaders in the construction industry. In addition to quantity surveying, I have worked as a project manager and an employer’s agent for different sectors throughout multiple stages of the construction life cycle. I obtained my RICS chartership in the early years of my career. It was the first personal objective set by my line manager, as obtaining a professional qualification is key to career development. After relocating to Hong Kong, I joined Arcadis as leader of the cost and commercial team for several years. Following this I held a role as the integrated services lead covering PM, QS and design on some high-profile client projects. I am now the Asia regional GPMO (global programme management office) lead for one of the world’s largest financial institutions.   

What has made the difference for you in reaching a senior role in your organisation? How D&I has helped you?

Throughout my career, I have been open minded and not been afraid to take on new exciting challenges that are beyond my comfort zone. I have had opportunities to work in many different sectors and roles, and I believe this wide range of experience has been paramount to my career progression. It is important to grab the opportunity when it appears,  and keep your CV up to date. This way, your organisation keeps you in mind for job opportunities that match your latest profile.

I was conscious that I need to keep learning, and so I upskilled whenever possible as technology and industry moves very quickly! There are many young talented people in my work environment which helps keep me up-to-date with latest industry and innovative technologies.
 
The companies I have worked for do have D&I policies, which encourages everyone to be treated as equal. I believe that being your best self at work and doing a job professionally is achievable and complimentary, therefore, embracing people and accepting them for who they are in the workplace has to be one of the greatest things about D&I and the direction in which the industry is moving. Diversity of thought is integral too. Try to build a network externally and join professional networking organisations, this way, you can meet people with wide industry understanding and be able to explore different ways of thinking. 
All my career, I have worked in international organisations, with people from different countries and backgrounds.  I believe this diversity of experience has supported my growth professionally and personally.

Lastly, it’s very important to have mentors. I am lucky enough to have crossed paths with many wonderful mentors in the UK and in Hong Kong. Some of them helped with enhancing my technical skills, some helped me with valuable advice about careers, managing ups and downs, or crisis management, all of which has enhanced my career progression. 

What message do you have for women starting their careers?

Don’t be afraid to try something new and broaden your experience with an open mind, you never know where it may take you.

Set tangible goals by developing a  three to five year career plan with your mentor, which can be reviewed every year, or as often as you’d like. Have a mentor who can help your career planning and give you guidance. Don’t be afraid to set your goals higher than you think possible, then work backwards to plot your path towards that goal.

When you feel your career is not progressing, do not give up, make time to understand your strengths and weaknesses and use the downtime to upskill yourself and try to explore other opportunities. Take checkpoints at times to analyse your situation and ensure you are pointing in the right direction.

Gus Bussmann

Gus Bussmann

Diversity and Inclusion Co-ordinator

RICS

Dr Gus Bussmann is the Diversity and Inclusion Co-ordinator at RICS and works with the Head of Future Talent to ensure the successful delivery of the D&I strategy. Gus is also Deputy Head of Policy at Pride in London and an acknowledged expert in LGBT rights, committed to support with understanding and to inspire the next generation’s activities and initiatives.