Etienne Hodge – “If you do something you love, honestly, you’ll never work a day in you life!”

Can you tell us a bit about your career?

My name is Etienne Hodge, I am 26 years old, and I work for one of the leading construction companies in the UK, Galliford Try. I am a Graduate Site Engineer with an MSc in Project Management, a BA (Hons) in Business Management, as well as a love and passion for planning and construction. I started my career journey wanting to be a wedding planner at 16, however, I fell in love with project planning and control in my third year of my bachelor’s degree and knew construction was for me. I then took it further to complete a master’s degree in Project Management at Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, where I won the Hillary’s Award for best performance. During my master’s degree I took part in site tours and was instantly inspired by the thought of developing something incredible out of nothing and creating a tangible entity that I can look back on and proudly say that I was a part of. I believe the built environment has endless opportunities and women have so much to bring to the industry.

What does a typical day in your career look like? 

My day typically starts at around 7am. Between 7-7.30am I grab a cup of tea, check my emails, and then change into my Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). At 7.30, we have a daily team meeting which covers safety on site, quality management and quality inspection slots. It also addresses the work that was completed the previous day and highlights the work that is programmed for the current day. After the meeting, my senior engineer delegates any additional tasks and information specific to my section before I leave to go out on site for around 8.

Once on site, I will liaise with the subcontractor I will be engineering for, to ensure we have a collaborative action plan for the day. Throughout the day, check sheets are completed, and quality inspections take place between us, the adopting authority and the client for theproject, to ensure works are going as planned and to specification. At the end of the day, a diary record is taken of the subcontractor’s activities for the day; this is an agile way to record project progress and development. The day will then round off around 5pm.   

What made you choose this career/industry? 

When I was growing up, I had a passion for event planning and envisioned I would be either an event host or wedding planner. However, after spending many nights as a waitress in hospitality, I knew that sector was not for me – that being said, planning and organising was still a huge passion of mine. In the third year of my undergraduate degree, I fell in love with Project Management and decided to take it further and complete a master’s degree in the subject, where I was introduced to the possibility of entering the construction industry.

Throughout my master’s degree, I visited various construction sites – with some highly respected companies – who showed us the avenues and career paths construction had to offer. Having this experience showed me that construction was the path for me. After making extensive applications through university, I was not successful in finding a position in construction at first, as I lacked the experience. So, I took seven months to build my experience, complete courses and achieve my Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card. Along the way, I joined the ‘Women in Construction’ scheme with Nottingham City Homes, which introduced me to senior women in construction. This encouraged me to continue my quest into the industry and demonstrated to me that women have a place in this sector. Now, 18 months down the line, I am very happy and proud to be a woman in construction. 

How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way, if so, how did you overcome them?

I think one of my biggest challenges was building self-belief. There are not many people that look like me in my profession, so I have often found myself questioning my abilities and falling into the trap of imposter syndrome. I have had those feelings that I am not qualified enough to be in my position, and that one day they are going to realise and fire me.

However, I understand that this fear can be irrational and as a result I record all my progress at work, so on the days where I feel myself having that anxiety, I can look at what I have achieved and reassure myself that I am the right person for the job. I have also spoken about this to other colleagues who started in a graduate position like me. They have experienced similar fears, so knowing that I am not alone also helps me overcome these feelings. 

What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role? 

I am so proud to be an equality diversity and inclusion champion at work, this opportunity allows me to liaise with senior leaders and influence change at a high level. I feel honoured to be able to visit events like the London Build Expo and listen to inspirational speakers on the diversity stage and the women in construction stage. This role is a key part to my career development as it’s helping me to think about and formulate the kind of initiatives I would like to pursue when I become a project manager.

What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed? 

For me, it stems from passion. I think people have seen that passion inside me which has helped open up different experiences and opportunities for me. Through that, you can see the difference that people pursuing that purpose and that passion can make, which has helped me grow and in turn allowed me to help others as well. In a sense, it’s a virtuous circle where everyone can inspire each other.

What’s great about being a female in your role? 

The ability to bring change in respect to mindset, culture, and ethics. The ability to educate different people on the significance of having women within a predominately male dominated workplace, and more importantly being able to demonstrate how gender diversity can affect and enhance the built environment. Being invited to the London Build Expo 2021, gave me the opportunity to listen to female leaders from all over the UK and hear and understand their perspective on diversity and women in construction. Additionally, with being a part of Nottingham Trent University alumni, I am able to speak to first second- and third-year students about career progression and entering construction which is a great honour for me.

I have already talked about having doubts and imposter syndrome, so I think it is important to be proud of your achievements as they come along. I am proud that I have been part of events such as the London Build Expo 2021 and being a member of the NTU Alumni, on the NTU women’s development programme, the construction and quantity surveying panel and the women in the built environment scheme, makes me so proud to be a woman in construction.

What is your biggest achievement in life? 

My biggest achievement would be my master’s degree in project management and winning the Hillary’s award for best performance. My whole degree experience phenomenally changed my life perspective and propelled me towards my current career. I am wholeheartedly blessed that I was able to complete, enjoy and thrive in my master’s degree and that has got me where I am today.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt along the way? 

Get as much done as you can, when you can, because there are so many external factors in construction and in many other industries that you cannot control. Issues such as poor workmanship, weather, supplies, plant problems, Covid-19, commercial disputes and many more, can affect the workforce, work morale and then consequently the programme.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career? 

I feel sometimes on site the men feel like they must help me because I can’t possibly have any strength to hold and carry all the equipment, which is not the case. Although people may mean well in those situations, it immediately gets you off on the wrong foot, and affects the power balance a touch, particularly when I am often meant to be instructing those operatives about what they should be doing. Those attitudes are filtering out so I believe over time as we gain greater gender representation on sites it will become less of an issue.

Outside you work, what are you favourite hobbies and pastimes? 

Currently, I live on my own which means I have a lot of time to focus on my career, but this also means I have to do all of the cooking the cleaning and the organising. Which doesn’t leave a lot of time to focus on anything else. Therefore, the things I cherish the most are going running with my dad and aunties, being outdoors and exercising. I really appreciate the time I get with my friends, and I really appreciate the small things in life like a nice dinner out, when normally you have everything to do yourself in the house. At times you forget about the small things but going out for dinner, enjoying time with family, and laughing with your friends is honestly the epitome of life.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by? 

I am the revolutionary change, so I must live life accordingly!

What three times would you give young females starting their careers?  

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know – it’s better to educate yourself on the answer then sit there confused because that ruins your confidence, and we are not having any of that in 2022!
  • The most powerful tool you own is being you! Don’t look at anybody else and compare yourself to them because nobody is you.
  • If you are unsuccessful in a role that you’ve applied for, all that means is that, that job isn’t the right one for you. The job position that is meant for you will never pass you by.

What is the best bit of advice you have every been given? 

Always be yourself. If you let your personality shine through, then people will see that and want to work with you and be around you. You can always tell when someone isn’t being genuine and that can affect working relationships and damage trust, so be you and do you always!

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?  

I had the amazing opportunity to work with Nottingham City Homes (NCH) and meet a lady called Abigail Greenwood. She introduced me to her women in construction scheme and helped me achieve my CSCS card for managers and professionals, Level 1 health and safety in construction and gave me the opportunity to engage in various construction activities such as block paving, brick layering and plumbing. During my time with NCH, I was able to go on a site tour with Woodhead Construction where I met Teresa Westwood the Director of the company. Teresa Westwood gave an inspiring speech on her challenges getting to the top, but also explained how rewarding and self-fulfilling her career is. This inspirational talk was a strong catalyst to changing my mindset. Thereafter, I felt like top level positions in construction were not just achievable but were definitely attainable!

What are your key motivators?

My key motivation is my desire and passion to reach the top and have a successful, fulfilling and rewarding career that I’m proud of. We don’t live forever but my goal is to create something that will, and construction allows you to do that!

Do you think enough us being done by businesses to address gender imbalance? 

I feel that the gender imbalance is still apparent in the sector stems from the stigma that construction is a man’s world. Education needs to start to break down those barriers in primary and secondary schools, it will then open up more opportunities for the construction industry. I feel like businesses already have a challenge on their hands when trying to attract and retain women so it’s up to them to put forward a different image of construction that helps challenge this preconceived idea that construction is a male-dominated sector.

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations? 

I have found that an effective role in construction is achieved through hard work, dedication and relationships. In order to progress in construction, your main focus should be to develop yourself, develop your skills and develop your relationships within the workplace. I often hear the phrase, “people like, like-minded people” so my advice would be to be yourself, know what you want and aim for your goals no matter the obstacles or social pressures.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions? 

Go for it! Women will never become leaders if we don’t go for it so get ready and put your best foot forward! As women we have the knowledge, the experience and more importantly the ability so we need to go for it! You only have one life, if you don’t go for it then you’re only creating a glass ceiling for yourself.

What’s one key leadership lesson you have learnt along the way?

Your leaders, bosses and managers are your supporting peers. They are there to challenge you but to also help develop you into the person you want to be. It’s important to listen and then communicate to the best of your abilities, this will teach you emotional intelligence, patience, and empathy. This way you will be able to develop an effective leadership style that encourages and grows your team alongside developing yourself.

What’s the best piece of advice you have every been given? 

Take your time with your answers – nobody knows everything. Often people feel like they have to know the answer to every question asked and if you don’t then you are less competent in some way. However, I have now learnt that this is not the case. If you don’t know, say, find out and then return with the answer, that way you will be confident in your answer and learn something new in the process.

What would you say to your 16-year-old-self? 

There is nothing you cannot achieve if you want it bad enough. There is nothing that anyone can do to stop your growth and progression, you just have to stay focused and appreciate every small step you take towards achieving your goals! You’ve got this!

How does your work effect individual life, and the world around us? 

Working in infrastructure allows you to enhance and develop communities, cities, and local businesses.The project I am currently working on, Grantham Southern Relief Road Phase 2, contributes to the expansion of Grantham, England, by constructing four new slip roads that will connect the A1 truck road to the B1174. Further from that, this scheme will continue to develop right through to the A52 in Grantham via a viaduct bridge crossing over the Eastern railway line and Witham River, through the Grantham Southern Relief Road Phase 3 scheme. I am so proud that my engineering work, will directly contribute to creating a safer, more attractive, and easier accessible Grantham.

What are some main skills you’ve picked up within your role/work experience? 

I now feel I can appreciate the magnitude that goes into project planning and control, as you must consider elements such as materials, lead time, compliance, specification, competency, certification, workmanship, workplace moraleand so much more. It not as simple as a person with a vision, it is the level of expertise, detail and precision that contributes to project excellence. 

However, the main skill I have developed is the understanding of forward thinking and management, as being an engineer, I need to consider what tasks follow the tasks I am currently doing today and assess how or if any, external factors such as weather, workmanship or absence could affect those tasks taking place on time. I need to consider a plan on how I can prepare for the following tasks before the subcontractor is ready to perform them and then mitigate any disruption that has the potential to put any works behind programme. So, in a nutshell I am constantly trying to ensure that I am ahead and in line with my tasks and I’ve assessed and actioned any disruption that may or may not take place.

What are some of the most exciting projects’ you have been involved in so far? 

Currently, I am working on the Grantham Southern Relief Road Phase 2 project, Grantham England. This improvement project links the existing A1 truck road to the B1174 via four new slips and two new roundabouts. It will allow the traffic to flow directly off the A1 to the B1174 before expanding into Phase 3 and connecting the new road with the existing A52 roundabout at Somerby Hill, England.

This is an exciting area of infrastructure, as I get to see the development of new roads and the complex project planning process behind it. Additional to this, the project provides links from the A1 to the B1174 and then eventually to the A52, which will improve connectivity and caters for strategic traffic movements, mitigating the problems of disruption and unplanned delays from HGVs travelling through the town center. Once completed, this project will help to improve the quality of life for residents, workers, and shoppers by reducing carbon emissions and noise pollution in the town center.

“Believe in yourself and create a day that is as brilliant as you”
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