My name is Rebecca Lovelace and I am the founder and Chief Dot Joiner for Building People.
Chief dot Joiner – it’s not one that you hear very often. I was saying to my children, when I was at school, there was certainly nothing saying, ‘would you like to become a chief dot joiner?’ in the career information.
I took the job title really tongue in cheek, just to make the point that we don’t need to create yet more initiatives when we can just join the dots between what already exists.
It also felt a little bit overly aggrandizing to use a word I don’t use that often, but to use the word Chief Executive, because we’re a tiny but growing organization but just Chief Dot Joiner is something more comfortable with me.
My career journey… I started off in the homelessness sector, then went to international humanitarian aid and accidentally end up in construction.
I remember probably about 2000, I was working for a construction company at the time, and my role was to work across London and weave together the colleges, the job centres, and the contractors with the opportunities, and effectively go to the supply chain and encourage them to offer placements.
I remember a couple of people that really stood out who did the placements, and one in particular, the contractor, coming to me and saying, ‘he’s brilliant, we’re going to employ him’. That for me, was sort of the real light bulb moment of people exist, the industry needs people- connectivity between the two is really poor.
So I then co-founded Be On Site, which works predominantly with ex-offenders providing jobs training in the supply chain and I set up Build Force, which is ex-military to construction. It was when I was working at Build Force that I realised it’s fantastic to have a place that ex-military or veterans can go to and find vacancies and mentors and training. But what about people that aren’t from that background? What about refugees? What about LGBTQ+ people?
Obviously you can fit within that ex-military audience, but I really felt that by not creating something very holistic, which is adding to that fragmentation – so I’ve done that.
The word passion project is absolutely right. I’ve done it because it’s felt the right thing to do and for me, a really big step has been just the end of last year when I was very straightforward about needing to bring in somebody who has the operational expertise that can drive Building People forward in 2022.
So we’re in the process of appointing that individual, which for me is a massive step because I can then focus more on the creative, the networking, the visionary side, which I enjoy and I’m arguably better at than spreadsheets and risk registers and business plans, which we need, but somebody else will probably enjoy them a lot better than I will.
I started Building People because… with Building People, we’re set up to answer the question or really the problem, which is, as a country, the UK needs to build. I don’t think anybody disputes that, but we haven’t got enough people and the people we have are not reflected in UK society.
I can honestly say if I had a commercial or a business background or even a digital background, I wouldn’t have created Building People.
That’s because I’d have seen all the barriers upfront, and I’ve gone from it from a very much a ‘why don’t we have this? Why is and this happening?’ – just asking lots of questions, until a colleague got a bit annoyed and said, ‘for goodness sake, why didn’t you just do it?’
That’s when I realized that nobody else was. I had a really good conversation with the University of West of England and they are doing research into ‘unleadership’, and unleadership is something that’s really come out of the pandemic; individuals that are delivering change, driving change, because they want to make a difference, because it feels right, and looking at their criteria of being an unleader effect. Tick, tick, tick – Oh, this is me!
So our focus is on diversity, it’s on increasing skills, it’s on joining those dots between procurement, social value, local employment, and community engagement. Rather than just creating yet another top-down industry initiative, our belief is that there’s a multitude of grassroots providers.
If we join those together, amplify their voices, add value and then simplify the user journey by bringing together this multitude of opportunities from vacancies to events to podcasts, then we’re going to help more people and more diverse people succeed in careers in the built environment.
The image of the construction industry at the moment… I do believe that representation matters and it’s really hard to be something if you don’t see others doing that.
Building People focus on the whole sector, so we look at the built environment, which includes construction. I think there’s a challenge with the word construction itself because it does have negative connotations.
The image is poor from the historical reality, and we haven’t as a sector been good at coming together to just tell a better story. It’s such a fragmented sector that’s part of the challenge.
So, from design and planning through to the facilities management side of things, I think it tells a much better story and gives a much better picture.
We need to look at issues such as job share, part-time working, sort of relatively straightforward things. I’m sure they’re not, but I hear stories.
I’ve talked about how fragmented it is, where you tend to get into it because somebody in your family is doing this. It tends to be ‘my dad was a surveyor; therefore, I’m going to become a surveyor and I know people can help me do that’.
We then tend up attracting people that look like other people and I do believe representation matters and it’s really hard to be something if you don’t see others doing that.
So, the story we need to be sharing, it needs to be so much broader, wider, and more inclusive. Then we also must change the reality because there’s no point telling a story what we’d like if the reality is that you come in and it just doesn’t feel right.
My biggest achievement to date is… Feeling comfortable enough to say, I’m ready to hand this over. I’m certainly not stepping back I’m going to be as vocal and as engaged as always but I recognize that now is the time for a different skill set.
I think the biggest achievement in Building People is getting to the point, which was last year, of having created something.
COVID hit and all the draw bridges went up and the money just hasn’t been as forthcoming. It’s starting to change. So rather than getting in a nice big lump of cash, doing user workshops, and developing a platform and a network based upon our research and our experiences, we just have to create what we knew was right.
Last year was all about saying, it’s here! We have created this place. This is the place where you can go. We’re not going to own it, it’s not about us. So, having that created, we launched it at UK Construction Week.
I have been involved with all-party parliamentary groups and various judging panels, which sounds like blowing my own trumpet, but it’s more to say we’re in a place now where it’s no longer trying to push that door open, it’s open.
And with achievements in life generally, it’s probably me still standing. I’m a mum of two boys, I have a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old and I’m immensely proud of them. I got diagnosed with M.E. a few years ago, and it’s been really hard trying to do everything.
I think another big achievement for me has been saying, actually, I need to get this balance a little bit more healthy.
Career challenges I’ve faced… It took a long time for me to feel that I could truly believe in what I said, I’m probably going to say confidence.
So I felt really fraudulent.
When I joined my first role, it was all about what was called incident and injury free, so a focus on health and safety, and in that time I got a master’s in Urban Regeneration, but I didn’t fit in because I wasn’t a planner or a contracts manager.
I was somebody that was passionate about enabling change at a local level and building communities and diversity in social values is not a thing at all. I found it really hard standing up and looking at a sea of faces who are all white men in their sort of mid-40s and pitching them something.
It took a long time for me to feel that I could truly believe what I said. I remember a turning point was when I spoke at a women in construction conference and I stood up and I looked out and the sea of an unreal wonderful mixture of faces.
I remember these women at the front, and they sat there, and they grinned, and they were sort of high-fiving and they were engaged with what I was saying and I felt this absolute injection of positivity and confidence.
I realized that I don’t have to be an expert, so I don’t have all the stats and the data about diversity in my head because I’m not an equality, diversity and inclusion specialist and I’m not a project manager or chief executive. I am somebody who is good at having an idea, bringing together groups of individuals and organizations around the idea, and driving that real sense of value and change.
It took me a long time to realize that that is good enough, that is as good as being a contract manager or a planner. I didn’t actually need to have a title and even calling myself Chief Dot Joiner at the beginning, I felt embarrassed about it and then I realised it became a real brand, a real selling point and I can now own that space.
So yeah, I guess I’d say confidence and not so much imposter syndrome but not knowing where I fitted in, where I was part of this. Now I’m very happy feeling somewhat unique and at the forefront of all of this, but it’s taken a while to get there, hence the grey hairs.
Being diagnosed with M.E… It’s a difficult condition to have because you can’t see anything on the outside and it’s very limiting. It’s really, really horrible. It’s taken me, I don’t even know if I still accept it because I don’t want to have it and it’s really difficult because there’s nothing visible.
I don’t work on a Wednesday because I need to have one day of rest and yesterday I slept all morning despite the fact I’ve had 9 hours sleep every night for the past week.
So I found out in 2016. I was trying to set up another initiative, I had a habit of having ideas and setting things up, and I was throwing all my energy at it. I realised that I just had this constant low-grade headache and sore throat.
So I thought ‘I must be coming down with something’ and it didn’t go away. Then I put that together with just these peaks and troughs of up exhaustion and then build it back up again.
From about 2016 to 2019, I was going to the doctor saying ‘what’s wrong with me, what is this?’. I remember going when my boys were little and it was just ‘you’ve got young children, you need to go to the gym and just have some time to yourself’ – but that doesn’t work.
So I think I’ve had it for many, many years and it was only in 2019 that I saw yet another doctor and I said ‘have I got M.E?’ and yes, I did.
With M.E., if you’ve got a certain number of criteria met, you’ve got it. So for me it was aches and pain, sore throat, headache, fatigue and also I’m approaching menopause so now I’m thinking great, what’s the overlap here, this is really not much fun.
So I got the diagnosis and it’s been a long journey, I’ve been looking at gut health, I found out there’s some food intolerances and certain foods make me significantly worse.
The challenge is I’ve got a bit of energy now, I’ll go for a walk on a local field and then two days later, I’ll be just wiped out and my brain struggles to put the two together. I’m not very good at thinking that exercise equates to two days later of exhaustion, but sadly that’s where it is.
It’s a really difficult condition to have because you can’t see anything on the outside, and it’s very limiting. I present a very lively, passionate individual, but I have to absolutely temper it with either side of that resting, which is damaging to my family.
I’m making some changes around how I operate not so much because I wanted to, but because I have to, and I don’t like that because I’m fiercely independent. I don’t like my body telling me what I need to do, so I’m working on that whole mind-body connection.
Maintaining a positive mindset… I just think we have this privilege of being born on this amazing planet and it’s finite. So why don’t we use our time to leave the planet in a better state than when we arrive?
I think it’s also maybe sort of a slightly single-minded approach of just it’s the right thing to do and just kept going and it’s also hugely a snowball experience.
I didn’t plan to set out to create a business, that wasn’t the plan. So it’s been this experience that I haven’t planned for. It’s not as if I’ve sat down and written out, this is plan for Building People.
In this past year, having those employees and we’ve got some volunteers and when we started getting organisations, putting some funds into the business, it’s suddenly grown.
So I guess for me it’s that the driver has been making a difference – that driver has always come down to people and respect and equality. I do recognise that with myself that I think about Building People 24/7 and I have ideas in my dreams, and I don’t want that ever to be the detriment of my family. Trying to balance the two is a lot of work.
The people who inspire me… I don’t think I have an individual person that inspires me. I’m inspired by people that I just see stepping out of the ordinary to do something that makes a difference.
I’m really attracted to energetic because that’s where I need to boost my levels. I’m attracted to passionate people that have got the guts to stand up and make differently and make things happen, make things become different.
I look at great leaders throughout history, and I always think, oh, gosh, I couldn’t do that, even just recognise, and recognise myself and I like the term unleader, I really believe and see that within myself.
So, I think I’m just inspired by people in the street. I see them stop and pick up a bit of litter, and I think, yeah, that’s just a simple good thing to do, right up to the people that don’t take no for an answer.
I’m inspired by people that are just open to change to different ways of being and that can see something and really push to make that happen.
A piece of advice I would give someone… would be to challenge and listen and be really aware of things.
If you can be confident, be confident but I know that it’s hard. Some of the younger people I work with and their confidence to get out there and sing their song is so empowering.
They recognise that although the world isn’t fair or isn’t equal, but we can all do our bit – whether it’s just smiling at somebody in the streets and picking up a bit of litter, whether it’s ensuring that your guest list is representative and if not representative, it’s aspiring to be more than representative and looking at life through the lens of it’s not just me and my world; because it’s so much broader than that.