We spoke with Carol Massay, head of construction at the Access Group and winner of the ‘Construction businesswoman of the year’ at the Great British Business Woman Awards, to discuss her journey in the industry, as she sheds light on women, diversity and new entrants coming into construction
How did you get into the construction industry and how has your career progressed since then?
I’ve been in the construction industry for over 30 years.
My first job in construction was with Barratt Developments, a national housebuilder that is still around today. My job there was in the accountancy department, learning the realms of accountancy for construction. The department touched different points of the business, so I worked across a lot of different areas, really getting into the nitty-gritty of how lots of different processes worked.
My time at Barratt Developments meant at a young age, I was able to appreciate how things worked from a housebuilder’s perspective, and how things were done manually compared to the way things are now with digital technology in construction.
From there I moved to SIAC (Southern Ireland Asphalt Company) an Irish civil engineering and building company, where I worked for over 14 years. My role within the company was to look at implementing systems and change, including changing from paper-based systems to digital systems and checkpoints when accounting for construction projects.
What I enjoyed is the whole transformation with the technology side of things, and how to solve problems with technology in construction.
Being able to evidence what I did for the company gave me more opportunities with other construction companies out there. That’s when I moved over into construction technology, and I spent a lot of nights in hotel rooms going around the country and working with some of the top 100 contractors in the industry. My task was to discuss the processes that companies currently use, and how to streamline them with different technologies.
Construction has been previously been known as “the dinosaurs sector of technology” – reluctant to change. Going to these companies and saying, you need to invest money into technology to be more efficient, is something that’s a hard sell because if they’re making money already, they think it’s if it’s not broken, why do we need to fix it with technology?
It was exciting to approach contractors and say, “how do you know you’re making the right profit? How accurate is the profit and is it repeatable on another similar project. How do you know you’re tracking your estimates and your actual spend on the contract?”
Having real-life experience is useful when you’re going into businesses, because construction really is all about budget, and that is my background and where I came from, and how I moved from where I was into the construction sector.
Tell us about your journey at EasyBuild/The Access Group
When I joined EasyBuild my role was to shape the business from a small software house to a point of sale in a five-year period.
At the time that the role came up, I was doing a little bit of freelance work, but was still keeping my finger on the pulse with my ‘construction contacts’.
At the time of the offer coming up with EasyBuild, I was offered a role at Carillion Plc at their head offices in Wolverhampton to be a business information manager within their construction business – I had to make a choice between three opportunities, which included remaining independent.
It was quite challenging at the time, and I had to decide. I had never been a CEO before, and I couldn’t look back and say I’ve had experience previously. It was an absolutely brand-new playing field for me, and I had to go away and think about it. The decision was ultimately to take the opportunity at EasyBuild as I believe this to be a once in a ‘lifetime chance’.
As a woman, and particularly a woman of colour, the opportunity of being a CEO is not something that comes up every day.
I didn’t know this at the time, but I was up against an experienced former manager for the role which added pressure. He had the experience, previously a managing director of his own business and a man. I was so happy that the chairman/shareholder saw something in me to give me the opportunity – they wanted something different in terms of approach.
When I got the role, I remember updating my LinkedIn profile and whilst there was some great feedback, there was also a backlash, with people questioning my experience.
When I saw this, I would be lying if the ‘imposter syndrome did not kick in’. I just remained focused. I wanted the opportunity that was given to me, and looking back at where I’d come from, and the opportunities I’d been given, I thought ‘all I can do is apply what I know based on what I’ve got in front of me’.
I saw it as a challenge, which is a theme for me now. As a mother and grandmother, we sacrifice a lot to actually go out to work and I thought you know what? I’m just going to do it. I want to do this, I want to prove people wrong and I knew I had the experience of working in a construction business, and understanding how technology can support business, so I took the reins at EasyBuild and it was challenging.
I got major support from the shareholders at EasyBuild and we got to a point where ultimately, we wanted to sell the business and put it out to market. Just before Covid-19 the process commenced with respective interested parties.
I met with Chris Baynes in London just before we went into lockdown. I think looking back he wanted to see the person heading the business which he was going to approve investment. I was very nervous at the time, but the meeting went well, such a great forward thinking business leader.
Covid kicked in and the world changed, I remember thinking, is this ever going to happen? I just had to look at how we could maintain a level of activity as a business, whilst still delivering to our clients. Also, keep the team feeling positive about the vision that we had agreed on prior to lockdown. As you can imagine, people were concerned about loved ones and also their jobs.
I decided to look at what plans we had in place for 2020 and took the action to fast-tracked the launch of our website, bringing it forward from June to April. My reasoning was, everyone would be sitting at home, including important business people. I wanted to make sure that we were all over social media, this included me. I stepped out of my comfort zone and looked at doing things differently
In 2020, I started to be a lot more social media savvy, and I started to use LinkedIn in a way that gave more visibility to the business but also as a woman in the sector.
I think that’s really paid off; people resonate that I’ve got a background in construction, also my followers getting to know ‘Carol who knows construction and tech’. Furthermore, now that we have become the Access Group, we’re a bigger beast competing with the rest of the world and the market is there for us to take.
Have you ever experienced any pushback in this male-dominated industry?
I wouldn’t necessarily say pushback. However, uncomfortable moments and challenges, yes. There have always been challenges, and in previous roles would things have been different if I was a man? Yes.
In the moment, I just focus on the fact that I’ve been appointed to do a job to the best I can do it.
When you look at certain things and how they play out, or you look at people’s body language in certain situations, it can be intimidating because sometimes you can feel as though they are probably more knowledgeable than you. However, I’ve never let those challenges be destructive to the path that I’m on. I am a firm believer that you ‘never stop learning’, no one single person knows everything.
I am aware that it’s there in some of the comments, but I would never see it as something that’s stopped me from doing what I do or getting me to where I am at this moment in time.
Not to be biased, but sometimes there are other women that will see another woman doing successfully, and rather than supporting them, they do the opposite, thankfully not that many, and perhaps this is a result of their own personal journey.
I’ve also had some supportive men along the way that have held the baton out to help me along and give me some good steers.
What are you passionate about and why?
From a personal perspective, I like growing things, and that relates to why I like construction. It’s all about building something – starting off from nothing and growing it.
My family is my world and I have an amazingly supportive husband who has been instrumental to my success. I’ve got four children which include two stepdaughters and five beautiful grandchildren. I always encourage through discussion, that they see that life is for enjoying and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone, ‘believe to achieve’.
I like to help – going into businesses and sorting out a problem that they have. Sitting down together and engaging with them about their challenges. Bringing the right people and resources in to help them solve that problem – I love that.
Following the acquisition by Access 9 months ago, I have had a lot of people reaching out because they’ve seen my journey, they’ve followed and they like ‘authentic Carol’, showing how the diversity and the inclusion which I represent allows others to believe in themselves.
We all know what’s been going on in the world in the last 24 months, I think people are sitting back and resonating that for businesses to thrive there needs to be more diversity, from a board level through to operational roles, and more women are gaining confidence in stepping forward and that is really comforting.
What advice would you give other women thinking of coming into the construction industry?
I’m very much about women in construction. The sector has always been thought of as unattractive, but it’s a great sector to work in. The opportunities are great.
It’s not just about going out and being out on-site – however, if you want to do that you can be a quantity surveyor, you can be a design engineer, you can do anything!
I speak on a number of different discussion groups to say ‘why not construction?’ There are SKILLS SHORTAGES, and plenty of opportunities – there is only 14% of women in the sector and we need to increase that.
The salary is good, we’ve got so much to offer. At a singular level, they are listening and there’s always a good way to have a different view in business and why should it always be through the lens of a male-dominated sector.
So, you’ve just won the Women in Construction Award, what does it mean to you?
It’s still sinking in. If I’m being honest about it, it’s only when you mention it or when I see something that it’s a personal achievement.
I’m honoured and I know cliché but it really is about the team. Getting great accolades for great ERP, team work and customer engagement. That is what excites me. When this award was announced I was up against some very influential big hitters, I was chuffed.
It’s a personal achievement. If we go back to what that means for instance when you’re doing a sports day race and your parents are watching you and you want to win it because you know it’s going to be talked about!
For me, I’ve never won a personal achievement in terms of business, so it’s been really great. I feel humbled for it, but I think what has been noticeable is when I shared it on LinkedIn, and the comments, feedback, and recognition was really great.
So, what’s next?
We’ve got the construction computing awards that are coming up in November, so the spotlight is on Access construction – we’ve had two industry-leading products that have been acquired second to be the biggest software house in the UK.
To be able to then show that the Construction Businesswoman of the Year won the award this year, but also the products showcased are part of Access construction it would be great for us to win something at that award.
On a personal level, what’s next for me is sharing that knowledge and sharing the opportunities in construction. It’s a sector that I’ll never move away from, it’s in my DNA and it’s looking at how we can address the skills shortages that are out there, most importantly looking at how we bring the best of technology out to businesses, that is fundamental.
We are leading the construction software business not just inside the UK, but worldwide, and I’m going forward with a great team behind me. I will continue going out, talking at events and urging leaders to invest more money in technology for businesses to uptake.
Head of Construction at The Access Group
LinkedIn: Carol Massay