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Joanna Mulcahy, FCIArb

Joanna Mulcahy resized

Joanna Mulcahy FCIArb is a Senior Commercial Manager at J Murphy and Sons who balances a successful career in the power construction business with raising three young children.  

She outlines her journey into the construction industry, what she loves about it and offers her thoughts on the recipe for success.  As a member of CIArb's Diversity and Equalities Focus Group, she is also involved in steering the Institute's initiative to enable female members to progress through to Fellow and Chartered Arbitrator status.  

Can you give us an outline of your role at J Murphy and Sons?  Describe your typical day.


I am currently a Senior Commercial Manager, leading a team responsible for the Power Construction Business.


There is no such thing as a typical day which is why I love my job. Three aspects however which are an integral part of each day are planning, thinking and keeping informed.


I always ensure I strategically schedule and plan my day each morning by assessing priorities to focus on and determine what is important and needs to accomplished.  This helps me to maximise my productivity, undertake the tasks I am employed to do and ultimately fulfil my purpose.


It is also important to continually sharpen my strategic thinking, to create an evolving plan that is a coherent, unifying, integrative framework for decisions especially with regard to the direction of the business and resource utilisation.


I also set aside time each day to keep abreast of financial, market and economic news and analysis, contract awards and key appointments to keep informed of what is happening in the UK and global industry.


With the exception of the above, each day is different and brings fresh challenges which enables me to continually enhance my skills, build upon my knowledge and remain professionally competent.


Key areas of my role include business planning, work winning, tendering, contract negotiations, systems implementation, contract reporting, risk management, dispute resolution, final account and contract closure.



What led you to pursue a career in the construction industry?


I was educated in a convent girls school and a career path in construction was never promoted nor was I encouraged to consider a profession in this sector.   Whilst deliberating what to read at university, I began a summer admin placement with a main contractor. During my tenure I was approached by the Managing Director who offered work experience at the company together with sponsorship to study towards a quantity surveying qualification.  I accepted the offer and have never looked back.



What tips would you give women entering the industry? 


For men and women I would give the following advice:


Question everything. Understand how things work especially the broader business, and wonder how they can be made to work better. 


Ensure you are always challenged. Discomfort should be your comfort zone.


Strive to be an expert in your chosen field and never stop learning through both experience and academia. 


To make sure the broad outlines of your career plan work well you will need to connect with some strong mentors.  Having a sounding board for your ideas will be vital.  You also should not confine your search within your organisation or industry; surrounding yourself by people with different expertise and gaining different perspectives will be invaluable.


Always focus on doing your job well.  That is what will earn you promotions.  Many people can seem more concerned about the job they want than the one they are employed to do.  Nevertheless career goals are important and must be shared.  You should take a proactive interest in your own progress. Keep fully aware of the competencies you still need to develop and discuss with your manager ways of achieving them.



What are some of the barriers and what can be done to overcome them?


I believe one of the main barriers is partly due to a lack of awareness about the interesting and varied career paths the industry offers.  It is important to work with parents, career advisors and schools who are hugely influential to get to the grassroots of where diversity starts.  At that level there is simply not an understanding that you can have a professional career full of opportunities in the construction industry.  It is also important for key industry figures to make the industry appealing, raise its profile and showcase the scale of exciting prospects. 


In common with many sectors the industry is renowned for demanding ludicrously long hours and has an inflexible approach to home working. Companies need to acknowledge that it is equally ok for men and women to have a work-life balance.  Addressing this would help to make a significant difference when it comes to parenting and would also ensure we attract the best talent into the industry.


There is also a lack of female role models which I believe contributes to the gender imbalance.  Beth West, Head of Development, Landsec is a shining example of how women can flourish in the industry and she successfully juggles this with motherhood, however the industry does need more visible key figures. While Beth rightly points out that “no woman wants to be on a board just because she’s a woman”, for the industry to change, women who are successful leaders can inspire others to consider a career in this industry.


You are also a member of CIArb’s equality and diversity group. Tell us what you’ve been up to.


I am honoured to be part of the Institute’s Diversity and Equalities Focus Group.  We have had initial discussions regarding the challenges for female members of CIArb to progress to Fellow and Chartered Arbitrator status which have generated a raft of ideas to take forward.  We are also putting together a programme of events we can hold to promote this initiative.



Who inspires you?


In 2015 Steve Hollingshead was appointed as CEO for the Murphy Group and developed a ten year vision for the business. Steve has set direction, assembled a strong team to bring his concept to life, and motivated and inspired me personally to engage and deliver the plan. 


I am also fortunate to work with Chris Green who joined Murphy Group as our new Group Commercial Director in October 2016, JP Murphy, Legal Counsel and Vince Bowler, Operations Director.  All are experts in their field, exude professionalism and exhibit motivating qualities which encourages me to act in the same way.  Despite their respective positions they always listen, ask my opinion and make me feel valued which inspires me to reach great heights of performance.


And finally in terms of inspiring words, I vividly remember the first morning when I embarked on my studies many years ago with the CIArb.  I nervously made my way past the Law Courts in the Strand towards the Institute’s Head Quarters in Bloomsbury.  I questioned whether embarking on three more years of education in the field of ADR would be attainable.  It was then I passed by a quotation by Marie Curie which read ‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.’  Her words inspired and helped me not only to go on to become a Fellow of the Institute but also continue to serve me well whenever I lack self-belief.