‘Women have a lot to bring to the table’: Fiona Forde, Amazon Web Services’ Business Manager for EMEA Construction

by | Feb 22, 2023

‘Thinking cognitively to solve problems is essential to the industry’s success and this is where women can excel’

“The construction industry has been under pressure to become more efficient and adopt new technologies to improve the flow of information and construction processes, Covid was a catalyst for this change,” says Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) Business Manager for EMEA Construction, Fiona Forde.

“In my current role I am seeing tools like BIM and Procore are central for collecting, connecting and improving flow. “With advanced materials, new methods of construction and a focus on sustainability, the whole sector is shifting in a new direction and its very exciting and creating a lot of opportunities,” she adds.

As Forde sees it, data collection and analysis are critical for improving both efficiency and safety. Having transitioned to a new role following a year’s stint as Construction Manager, she is now more involved than ever in developing new ways to get work done.

“My current role is heavily involved in the running of the construction org by helping drive new initiatives, process management, implementation and improvement, resourcing, data analytics and standardisation across EMEA and the wider global construction management team,” she says.

With 10 years’ experience behind her in the construction industry, Forde returned to Ireland from Canada in 2020 – eight years after leaving university.

The Dubliner, who now lives in Wicklow with partner Shane and son Ollie, credits her successful career path to always pushing herself outside her comfort zone. To use the well-worn phrase, every day is a school day for Forde, who embraces the concept of always learning.

“Construction is unique and it’s a team effort,” she adds. “No one person builds a building – it’s a collaboration of a bunch of talents, skill and personalities and because of this every day is different.

“I am continuously learning and working with people from all walks of life.” Her route into the industry began internationally. “I worked as a Building System Design Consultant Engineer for five years in Vancouver, Canada. I really enjoyed this role and learned a lot,” she says.

“I had the opportunity to work with diverse consulting teams from each engineering discipline and on different projects across many industries.

“I found was it was a desk heavy job, however, and I knew I wanted to be up and out seeing the actual construction works more. That is when I decided to obtain my PMP certification,” she adds.

“I then transitioned into a construction manager roll on the client side of the table with the largest fast-food restaurants in the world and built restaurants all across Canada under a very aggressive 14-week schedule – from hole in the ground to flipping burgers.”

What did you learn from your biggest mistake?

You can’t do everything at once and burning the candle at both ends only lasts so long. I learned early on in my career that burn out was a real thing, thankfully I had great mentors to educate me on the importance of work-life balance and how it is so important to ruthlessly prioritise. I personally have found now that I maintain a healthy work-life balance that it is not only important for health and relationships, but it also improves my productivity, and ultimately my performance in work.

What projects are you most excited by?

Critical environment construction – the aggressive schedules, the continuously improving and evolving designs, the logistics and work arounds for long lead equipment and the challenges that come with working in an environment where you cannot interrupt everyday business.

Her time in Canada left to a somewhat amusing encounter, which stays with her to this day “When I was working as a construction manager on a site in northern Alberta during the winter it was minus 26 degrees Celsius, minus 38 degrees with wind chill,” she says.

“I was outside with some of the project team assessing the final details of the drilling and install of a 100m large LED pylon sign.

“We were all completely wrapped up with coats, hats, scarfs, balaclavas and gloves as it was freezing cold. When we got back into the boardroom to sign off with the utility company that we were ok to proceed with drilling the piles in the agreed locations, one of the utility contractors was surprised to find out I was a female under the layers and layers of winter clothes.

“We had a good laugh about it as we warmed up with a nice cup of tea,” she adds. Forde believes the construction industry is for anyone who enjoys problem-solving and isn’t afraid of a fast-paced environment.

“If you want an opportunity to work with highly-driven and intelligent teams, give the construction industry a try, you won’t regret it,” she says.

“While working at the Building System Consultancy firm, I was fortunate enough to get a lot of exposure to the three company owners, who had 70+ years’ experience in construction combined.

“One of the first things they said to me is ‘know what you know, and know what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to ask questions’. This stuck with me and once I started to put it into practice, I built strong working relationship with the trades, contractors, clients and other consultants.”

“Construction work is often perceived as hard, dirty and unskilled labour,” Forde says, adding women have so much to offer the sector.

“While some aspects of the industry are physical in nature, working in construction isn’t the boorish work that many think, the industry also requires mental exertion. Workers in the industry must be able to think cognitively and exhibit sharp problemsolving skills,” she adds.

“For me this is where I believe women are capable of excelling and are essential for the construction industry. Women have a lot to bring to the table and we have the ability to visualize a project differently, bring a diverse perspective which can expose new insights or ways of working that would otherwise go unnoticed.”

Forde is an active supporter and innovator of ways to increase equality and diversity in construction.

“Since moving into my current role I’ve become more involved in the conversation on how we could increase diversity in the construction and STEM industry.

“I got the go ahead to try and set up a returners’ programme. I reached out to Liz Carroll from the Construction Skillnet and we ended up working together to develop a Return With Confidence programme, which is aimed at women returning to the construction workplace after a period away from work for whatever reason.”

The programme launched at the end of last year with 14 participants taking place in six-weeks of skills-based training and a six-week work placement across multiple companies.

As a result of its success, there are plans to run the programme again this year. “The long-term goal is to a build a more inclusive and diverse talent pipeline for the tech industry. I have signed up to be an ambassador to help inspire future generations to consider a similar career in STEM.

“AWS is committed to working with the education sector in Ireland to create more upskilling opportunities. The recent collaboration of the Fusion Slicing initiative with the Drogheda Institute of Further Education is a great example of this and I know the business is planning to do more of this in future. Our AWS GetIT programme is a fully funded education program and competition designed to inspire 12-14 year old students, especially girls, to consider a future in STEM – 2023 will be its third year in existence here in Ireland.

“The key is to start educating in primary school, change the narrative for both boys and girls, and teach them about the equal opportunities in the construction industry,” Forde says.

“This exercise of championing women in the industry is great as you can’t be what you can’t see. Highlighting women already in the industry is a fantastic start, but I think we still need to educate younger generations in their earlier school years.”

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