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Sustainable Design and Construction with Nidhi Baiswar

Hi everyone and welcome to the future of work in construction Concast.
I'm delighted to introduce our next guest Nidhi Baiswar. To give some background to Nidhi, Nidhi  is a qualified architect and has been working in the built environment sector for over 17 years. Nidhi practiced architecture in India and then flew to the UK to pursue a career in sustainable built environment. Nidhi is a compelling communicator, well versed in influencing stakeholders and fostering strong professional relationships.
Thank you so much for joining me today. I know it's been a bank holiday Monday, so we're still getting into the groove with the week, but it's really great to have your board.  Your background is super interesting and super inspiring, so I would love to hear more about your role and what your main responsibilities are with Bouygues UK. Talk me through how you do what you do and how it's formed in that company?
Thank you Mamta for the introduction, yes, it's been a good bank holiday relaxing weekend and we are here now today.
It's been a journey for me so I would like to introduce myself. I'm an architect and I started my journey and I worked there for a couple of years after graduating from uni. I worked in India with a couple of architecture firms working on a variety of projects starting from social housing to stadium, so with all those projects  I was working with big firms, then I tried to push the agenda of sustainability and equal design in terms of energy efficiency.  
I soon I realized there's more to buildings and sustainability than just design and that's when I thought that I need to learn a lot more. It's a big industry, it's about construction, it's about how you maintain the buildings later on and afterwards, how you demolish and refurbish.  That's when I decided to move to the UK to do more on this in particular with this particular sector.  Since then I'm working with different architecture, a different consultants and construction companies, looking at sustainability and delivering it in the product that those companies offer.  
Currently I work with a big company called Bouygues UK construction.  I am part of this, it is a French company, some part of the construction group and I work here as head of sustainable design and construction.  My role within  the company is to come up with strategies and visions for sustainability on projects. Also to work within the company to inculcate these sustainability strategies within the products that we offer within the business strategy that we've got now. I work very closely, or partner with the executive team members and the leadership team members of my company.
We drive the agenda for our climate strategy, putting together an action plan for carbon and things like that.  Where I sit, we are looking at our the products that we offer for our clients.  That means that I get in touch with our stakeholders, whether it could be our clients or the investors that we work with.  They are the external client and bodies and could be public sector clients as well. Internally I have a lot of engagement with our staff to make them aware of these topics, relating to sustainability within the construction sector and push the agenda of sustainability through the work that they do. We have a role where are talking to external stakeholders and also our internal staff to make things happen, so that's pretty much what I do within my company at the moment.
That's a very broad role. I mean, you have lot of areas you work in and  it sounds so super interesting. Were you always interested in this area as a kid?  Did you know as you went through school this is what I want to do when I get older?
I was always interested in buildings. My father is as is a civil engineer, I always around him. When I would see him draw his drawings for his projects and going on site, it was always something that I was fascinated with growing up.

I think there was there were two areas that were my expertise. One was mathematics and the other one was art which is quite unusual. The inclination then was looking at, or finding an area where I could excel in both.  Architecture then, was something that offered both sides of the aspect of working with art and also mathematics.  To be able to look at the structure design and building services design and things like that, that's where I found my niche.  It was only in my final year of architecture when I took up my dissertation which was linked to sustainability and that kind of drove that into everything that I did after that then.
I  was passionate about buildings since I was growing up, but with sustainability it became more of a passion in Uni, when I started looking at the aspects. In the context of India, there were a lot of opportunities then. In that particular moment in time when I was
finishing my studies, there were lots and lots of opportunities looking at tapping into bio gas or looking at renewables.  This is quite an obvious thing, there's so much Sun in India, so to harness and get it into and use it as energy is an opportunity.
That was one of the biggest challenges I've faced actually, there was a big opportunity to link it  with projects and try and get that across to clients and across to  people I worked with. This was quite a big challenge because there was always a financial aspect that was attached to pushing forward with these ideas and agendas.  That was quite challenging when I started off and I thought I would enter into a field and just became become a sustainability professional. People would come to me with ideas sustainability in their minds, so I didn’t have to sell that idea to them. I'm still doing that and it will be sustainability every time.

It has become quite more interesting and I would say easier with all the awareness that has been created with Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough and all the good things that have been done in the past three or four years. I would say that things are relative,   
It's  more understandable when one people like Greta  and David are talking and they're one TV and are more public about this.  People understand it better as well, don't they, they understand what they need to do just day-to-day to make, you know, their environment more sustainable and their life more sustainable as well.

So, hundred per cent agree with that, it’s so important.  I think it's getting more voices out there to be heard as well and I think you are one of those voices, which is incredible.  You said about art, do you do anything around the art side now? Or, is it maybe you just kind of put it to one side to do later in life?

No, actually I paint regularly and recently I have got into ceramics as well.  I do a lot of pottery and ceramics in my free time,  it's something I'm continuing to pursue absolutely now.
That's incredible. It is it's always the way in life,  you’re  interested in one thing, but actually is its something else that you want to do and have a passion for.  I think is it's great that you carried that on, that's brilliant.
I was going to ask you, from an Indian and a women point of view. I was born here, but I still face sort of barriers I guess of my own, of being able to progress in my career. When I was working in tech, there was very few women and very few Indian women at that time working in the UK.  It felt like I wasn't really able to progress in the way that wanted to progress and become a leader.  I went into contracting because I thought was good at my job and I can make money that way. Eventually I was able to, you know progress and become a leader of people and I really enjoyed it.
What kind of challenges have you faced to come in this career and become a leader in your industry?
That is a very good question and you have actually pointed out the right thing. It is difficult, It is difficult being a woman, it's difficult being somebody from another country and coming into talk about these thing as well. Overall I think throughout my career, even when I was working in India, it was quite challenging. Going to sites and being in an office with architects, where it's quite hugely male dominated industry again in India. So it was a challenge.
How you portray yourself is important. The challenges for me were making myself being heard to the people last week.  I think that was quite important and it was always about getting your point across to the other party and making them understand where I am coming from and what I bring in terms of value, just not for the project, but also for the company on a wider context when you're looking at it.

At every point I think there was a challenge where I had to prove myself. I personally believe that if you are good at something and if you got a positive mindset, you just need to be insistent on what you believe in.  It will show one day and you get through, but also work harder because that you've got to prove yourself  to show that you will bring value,  that you can make a difference.

To me, it was always about making sure that I am getting my point across in a very clear and positive way and also making sure that people at work understand that I'm not there to challenge them. I'm there to work with them and make things happen so it's about having that kind of collaborative attitude and a positive mindset that I think was quite key. It is what got me here so far and I hope
continue to maintain that.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, that's the thing isn't it? I really believe it is your mindset and that to be able to be responsible for your progression of a career. It's fun, being sponsored by mentors and to find coaches to help you progress as well. So, how do you see yourself progressing over the next  five years or so? What is it that you'd like to do or be?
That is another good question. So far there are a lot of things that have been involved with. looking at the construction industry, there is a good momentum now, in terms of the topics relating to sustainability.  People are talking about carbon, people are talking about improving biodiversity. What we, the construction sector is looked up on is,  we are encroaching all the green space, building it,  or covering it with concrete.
There's a lot of awareness now already. It's now about getting to that stage where we engage with the people and make things happen and make sure that everything we've spoken about, is now embedded in what we do. So, it's that next stage. it will take some time for us to have that kind of culture change within the industry, where we have been talking about, designing equal friendly buildings and reducing our carbon emissions.  We are talking about what concrete and cement that we use, which one contributes towards a big amount in terms of carbon emissions and trying to bring that down.

So overall, there are lots of these huge pockets and areas where we can tap into and because people are now aware, they are thinking of finding alternatives. People are coming up with good ideas on their design. So it's about making things happen now. This part of my journey was about creating that awareness,  creating that sort of momentum in the company to get started and act on.
Now we are trying to see how we can get that embedded in our culture.  That's my next stage of where I am and I would like to see that not just within the company I work with but also looking at the construction industry as a whole. There's a lot to offer,  there's a lot to collaborate and work together, where there are lots of topics that we can, you know do something together and make a difference. That's where I would be focusing on the next few years.
That sounds like a very natural progression for you, to take that step and it sounds like a lot of work to be done. To be fair, it doesn't sound like an easy task. I think that will definitely keep you busy for a while.  It's been a really interesting. I mean over the lock down period , we've seen the pandemic come through, we've seen the inequalities that sometimes we suffer from, including the George Floyd situation with black lives matter and the process that we saw over the past year.  Since then, I've seen that companies are trying to you know, implement more of a diverse strategy, being inclusive and being equal to the employees.

What kind of things are you seeing in the industry that are helping to bring in more of a diverse background in terms of employees for the industry?
I think now there is a focus to employ or get young people more interested in this sector. I see a lot of companies pushing that agenda, or trying to engage with the students in those very early stages,  which is what my company is also doing at the moment.  We are going into schools and having those sort of sessions where students understand that there is a career in construction industries for them.
They understand what are the different roles that this company can offer, It's not just working on site, but there are so many
different roles.  
There is a variety of different areas that they could focus on. Knowing, or understanding their passion is quite important and anything that they are passionate about will fix in the construction industry in some form and shape. Even if they are interested in IT, I think that's the biggest driver for the construction industry going forward, because we are looking to digitalize the way we work. We are looking at different technologies, we are looking at different tools and software and so on.  So, even if somebody is interested in IT, and they're only focusing to go into engineering and focus on just working with different IT big companies I think it's for them. For us to give them an overview of what the construction industry can offer in that particular sector.
So we're doing quite a lot of steps. Also getting to speak to young generations in terms of goals, you know, trying to make them understand that it's not just men. It's a ballroom as well and it's for anybody who's interested. I think the industries now shifting the approach of capturing the attention of the young generation. I think that's something that's definitely gained momentum. The other part is  looking at using of different tools and digitalizing the whole aspect of how we work together. I think that that's one area which is still got a long way to go, but things have already progressed in that area as well.
Have you seen that more say over the past year?
Yes, absolutely.  We had to work from home, technology was the only way to connect with people, so there was there was a lot of focus with companies I think trying to upscale their staff, to be able to use technology. Also to be able to do a lot of things while being at home, it was it was a challenge. I think there were the uptake has been really good, we've really come a long way.
The last year was a passport in the air. I mean we would have otherwise taken a couple of years to reach where we are today. This last year was really great in terms of seeing how, it was all positive as well. People did like the idea of being able to use technology and being able to you know, reduce their travel and use that time with their families and things like that. So I think with Covid, there were some positive aspects and also working from home.
There's a massive shift in work culture and I think that was needed for a long time. You saw people can be more comfortable working at home and having more balance, their approach to work and stuff.
Its really interesting what you said about IT  because when I was working in tech, it was just tech software companies.  Now, every company is tech because every company's trying to implement good systems and good ways of working and that involves heavily IT.
When I was a kid, I didn't really know what industries, especially the construction industry, were open to me.  I would never thought that was open to me, or that I could do anything in that industry. That was a long time ago.  It sounds like, people can go into it, even if they've been in another industry for a while.  Interesting in IT, they can still shift towards a construction career.

In terms of what you said about the industry appealing to women, I think that's super important isn't it? When I work with the teams in India, there are more women actually in the sectors  in the UK there aren't so many. Is the company going into schools and at quite young ages and trying to talk to young women about STEM and that sort of stuff?
That's something that I get involved with as well.  We've got some programs with the schools that we work with and we have some partnerships with them.  What we do is, we go to speak to students in year 8 or year 9, that's when they are trying to decide on their career options and trying to think where they want to go after they finish their school.  It's quite key to get their attention at the right time, it isn’t at a very young age. I mean don't get me wrong, we do get involved with the students in years six and you know five as well, but it's a different level of interaction.
It's trying to get them to understand that there are different roles one of them could be, within the construction sector.  Without pushing it, or without trying to sell it them. This is making them aware of the possibilities of what we're doing.  Surprisingly, when we send them feedback forms after the sessions that we can ran, we do get quite positive response from them. For example, we had no idea that this is an industry that can offer so much.  With girls especially, they would have always thought of construction industry as a man and the image that comes to their mind is a builder and a hard hat. That's one part of what we do and there's a whole lot of other
opportunities alongside so it's getting them to see the possibilities.

I think it works. With women also, when women  talk to them about their role and make them understand how their journey started right from school till the end now. I think it it opens their eyes and it really makes them see the world at a different way so I think it's quite key. The industry should push for that more and more as we go along.  
Absolutely and like we said, role models like Greta, its inspiring to young women I think. To be able to do something and change something, that’s a great way to do it. I love hearing that. Your role is just more than one thing it's several things, you know and it encompasses a lot of things which I think is great.  because that kind of develops you as a person for sure.
I have just one last question for you before you have a cup of tea or coffee. If you had an uncomfortable question to ask your industry, what was it be well?

I think I would ask the industry, up to what point, or up to when are we going to keep talking about  diversity and the gender gap within the construction industry. I think as an industry we need to come together and we need to set some targets for us. Like, how have we done for carbon, how we've done for other parts. There are targets where we're trying to digitalize ourselves and reach a certain stage but when it comes to the gender gap, we need to bridge that gap as soon as possible. We can put together gender big up reports every year and doing it for another 15 years but where are we going to reach at the end.
I think it's setting that target for our industry to say, this is the year to say that we won't be talking about this anymore. It will become a normal.  It is something that you will not spot as a difference, it will be something that is natural.
So I think I'd ask the industry, when are we going to stop talking about this? We need to now stop talking and do more and set targets I think that's my biggest question.
I love that, 100% agree with that. It's what do we do now?  We know there's an issue, lets so something about it now, lets put plans in place and put targets in place. And I think that's a really crucial thing to of close up the pay gap and close the gender gap in the industry, that’s a great question to ask.

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