This is the final article in our series International Women’s Day, articles in which we meet just some of the great women who help make Ballymore the business it is today. Our final feature of this series focuses on Senior Design Manager Ruphina and Nicola Zech-Berens – a project director in London.
Ruphina Choe is currently working on designs for The Brentford Project; here the 43-year-old mother of one tells us about her experiences as a woman in the construction industry.
“Diversity in any business is crucial to great outcomes, and it’s great that we have events like International Women’s Day to help highlight the work that women do and our quest for equity.
“We are definitely reaching a point of more parity now, but it’s not always been this way. I only have to think back 20 years ago when I was whistled at onsite as a graduate architect. I was a minority then, and that lack of female representation means the objectification was allowed to happen.
“We’re eradicating those attitudes now and I largely feel supported in my work at Ballymore. Life is a juggling act as I raise my 21-month-old son Giorgio – a lockdown baby – and my work at The Brentford Project, but I succeed thanks to positivity, patience and persistency. I had to draw on those three tenets a lot as I made my way back into work after I had Giorgio. It was a challenging time and that ‘return to work’ burden is something largely placed on mothers, but I’m motivated so much by what I do and that drove me forward then as it does now.
“Representation is key, and I hope that International Women’s Day will help bring more great role models to the fore, encouraging more women to unleash their dreams without fear. As a woman of Korean, New Zealand and British heritage – with an Italian husband – I’m a big advocate for representation in all its forms.”
London-based Project Director Nicola Zech-Berens gives some final, inspiring words on International Women’s Day and how women can have it all.
“At every turn women are under pressure to choose. Do we want a family? A career? Or do we want to have it all?
“Of course we can have it all. Yes, it is can be challenging to have a family and a career, but it’s not impossible. The key is establishing your own set of life rules and not delaying milestones such as having a family – there’s never a right time so if you want to do it, do it now!
“I also think women are being helped in the workplace by technology; while the last three years have been challenging in so many ways, they’ve proved that we can work from wherever we choose – making the logistics of long hours and children all the more possible.
“This approach has definitely helped my career; I soon made peace with the fact that there would be compromises – whether that was the inequality I encountered in the early days, to making financial sacrifices as I had to do with maternity pay – even the simple things like accepting my kids might have creases in their school uniform! I quickly learned to forgive myself and be proud of what I’d achieved both at home and at work.
“I do sustain a lot of pressures at work; I’m a project director in our Ballymore development team, currently planning some exciting projects in the capital - new developments like Deanston Wharf, Thames Road Quarter / UNEX, Knights Road and, my current favourite, Bishopsgate Goodsyard.
“This sector continues to be dominated by men, and I often find myself the only woman in the room, but I work hard to show what I can do. A project with the gravitas of Bishopsgate helps this. I feel respected and valued by my Ballymore colleagues and my ideas and opinions and supported and considered.
“But I’ve been in this sector for a long time and am speaking from a place of having already earned the respect of others. That’s the part I’d encourage any women moving into the sector to focus on; believe in yourself and invest in yourself so that when you come to the table you have valid ideas that are seriously debated – and taken forward!
“International Women’s Day helps shine a spotlight on the great women of the world; it’s an opportunity to seek out new role models and mentors who can help you in career. Supporting each other is our best route forward as we continue to amplify our voices.”