Caroline Musker, the recently appointed head of planning at Prologis UK, tells PBC Today about her experience of a career in a male-dominated industry, and future prospects for bringing women into construction
“I think it’s very important for young women to see, and be influenced by, other women that have been successful. Gender representation is something that is becoming more important, both professionally and personally, so making sure there is gender balance and representation in senior roles is important.”
Tell us about your career to date; what initially drew you to the sector?
“When I was a young student at secondary school, I was initially interested in geography, but the career options this opened up were limited and I was encouraged to pursue something more vocational. After finishing my Bachelor of Arts degree in Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield, I went for an interview at planning and development consultancy, Lichfields, where I ended up working for 18 years.
“As I progressed through the company, by chance I worked with a number of people at Prologis, on a number of projects, notably phases two and three of Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT), as well as Prologis Apex Park in the East Midlands. Little did I know then that Prologis would become my employer a few years down the line.
“Already having a ‘foot in the door’ with Prologis, so to speak, when I heard that the business was recruiting an in-house planning specialist, I was enthusiastic about the prospect of a career change. From an external perspective, I was impressed by the company’s culture and ethos – the teams I had worked with at Prologis always demonstrated integrity and transparency, two traits that are important to me, both as an employee, and as an individual.”
What can you tell us about your new job?
“I’m the first head of planning at Prologis, which is exciting in itself. I might only be a few months in and still finding my feet, but I’m really enjoying the challenge that my new role brings. Day to day, I am focused on driving the growth of new and existing projects, providing a strategic overview and leading the planning elements of the company’s development pipeline. More broadly, I am working with the wider team to further strengthen and develop planning knowledge and understanding across the business. This is hugely satisfying for me, both as a planning specialist and as someone who is passionate about promoting gender diversity and social inclusion.
“Work aside, I’ve been able to get out and about across with the company’s development and capital leasing team, visiting all 22 of Prologis Parks and meeting as many people as possible. In my first few weeks, I attended a special event for property agents in the Cotswolds, which was a great opportunity for me to get to know the wider team and learn about all areas of the business.
“For example, I didn’t realise that the company is involved in much more than just the delivery of high-spec logistics property, it is also a leader in terms of its commitment to environmental and social governance (ESG) and is involved in the development of specialist data centres and space for life sciences businesses too. I was also delighted to discover that the company invests a great deal in skills development and training, through its Warehouse and Logistics Training Programme at DIRFT and other sites in the UK and globally.
“Overall, there are a lot of exciting projects in the pipeline and, from a personal perspective, it’s great to be utilising my key strengths in a new role.”
From a female perspective, would you say that your gender has impacted your career in any way?
“Personally, I wouldn’t say that my career has been impacted either positively or negatively by the fact that I am a woman. However, I am aware that my experience doesn’t necessarily reflect that of other women in the property and construction sector.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been mentored by a lot of successful and inspirational people, the majority of whom happened to be men. However, for women entering the industry now, there are a huge number of female role models embedded at many leading businesses and this is challenging assumptions about what it’s like to work in the industry.
“In terms of confidence and career opportunities, I think it’s very important for young women to see, and be influenced by, other women that have been successful. Gender representation is something that is becoming more important, both professionally and personally, so making sure there is gender balance and representation in senior roles is important. It’s great to see businesses in the sector, and society as a whole, are moving in an increasingly diverse and inclusive direction.
Can you share some of your career highlights?
“Being promoted to senior director at Lichfields was a particularly a proud moment for me. I was the first female graduate to get to that level at the firm and I received the promotion whilst pregnant with my second child. Another career highlight at Lichfields came when I was chosen to project manage the development of DIRFT, which is Prologis’ biggest asset in the UK.
“Balancing a full-time career with a family is not an easy task; it requires a lot of time management and prioritisation. Luckily, I have a very supportive partner. What I hope is that my example will help other young people to see that it is possible to manage the responsibilities of a young family and pursue their career and personal goals at the same time. One shouldn’t come at the expense of the other.”
What would you say to other young women considering a career in the property and construction sector?
“This industry is incredibly varied and is about far more than just putting up buildings. As well as planning, there are many opportunities to specialise and support property companies in realising their goals, and there really is something for everybody. This is a dynamic industry where there are plenty of opportunities to be innovative and pursue a rewarding career path, and I hope more talented young people choose to join the industry.
“Throughout my career, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, so have learnt a thing or two about what makes a good candidate. Communication skills are massively important. Throughout your career, you’re going to want to focus on building strong, positive relationships, and strong communication skills are an essential part of that. Other key skills to focus on include time management, attention to detail, and demonstrating commercial awareness.”
Do you have any further observations about what it takes to work in a male-dominated industry?
“The pandemic has completely shifted the way we work. In my opinion, the move to flexible working has been very positive. Balancing a family with small children and a high-pressure job did create a few testing moments over the past two years, but thankfully this is over now and in the long-term, flexible working is here to stay.
“Overall, I am looking forward to doing my bit to support the push to improve gender diversity and social inclusion in the sector and I hope that others will do the same.”