“Credibility comes from being able to demonstrate your capabilities and not making excuses because of your gender”
Chim Chalemera is a qualified award winning Chartered Quantity Surveyor and commercial management professional with experience in different industries including education, renewable energy, infrastructure and utilities in both the public and private sectors. She currently works as Regional Commercial Adviser for the UK Department for International development (DFID)
Vera: What’s the best thing about being a woman in what one would consider a male dominated area?
Chim: I think the best thing is the enjoyment I get out of observing people’s reactions when I tell them my profession as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor. There is always a look of surprise, raised eyebrows, ‘Oh really’, and most of the time followed by a question that starts with ‘How’ or ‘Why’.
Vera: What leadership qualities do you admire and what would you saying are your strongest?
Chim: Leading by example for me is a strong characteristic of a good leader. I believe that as a leader, you should be prepared to demonstrate that you can get ‘stuck in’ as much as your team. I think you earn more respect if your team knows that you can and are willing to work alongside them if need be and are not just sitting up on your comfy ‘perch’ looking down. Leaders who are not in touch with what is happening on the ground and within their teams have a real risk of alienating themselves and losing respect. You have to win hearts and minds, and I would say that is one area I really do try and focus on.
Vera: Why do women seemingly have less traction in their careers than men?
Chim: I think that depends on the sector. For example, in the public sector, there is a good representation of women across all parts of the organisation. The private sector has more work to do when it comes to attracting numbers of women into their organisation (with the exception of the traditionally female-dominated sectors). What I’ve observed for example is that women may take career breaks to have children, and when they choose to return, it is sometimes difficult for them to pick up where they left off as so many changes would have occurred in the organisation. I also think that perhaps women are not as forceful as men when it comes to fighting for their career progression – so it is a lot easier for men to demand increased pay, promotions, etc, but I think women tend to hold back – probably a generalization, but this is me speaking from my experience and what I’ve observed over the years in my career.
Vera: What for you has been the really challenging part of building a strong career that young women need to be aware of?
Chim: I think for me, I faced a double ‘challenge’ of being a woman and black in traditionally what was (and still is) a white male-dominated sector (the UK construction industry). Demonstrating my worth was a real challenge, and particularly being from Africa did raise a few eyebrows in terms of what I could bring to the table, but I have to say, I surprised a few people!
Vera: What advice would you give a woman going into a leadership role in a male dominated industry or profession?
Chim: For me, it is all about being confident in your profession, and more importantly, portraying that confidence outwardly to your male peers. Once they realize that you are equally, if not, more capable, then achieving credibility no longer becomes an issue. Credibility comes from being able to demonstrate your capabilities and not making excuses because of your gender. Have confidence in your abilities and don’t be intimidated by your differences, but focus on what you will bring to the table as an expert or professional in your chosen field. Once you lose your confidence or appear uncertain, it will be an uphill battle as your peers could pick that up and use it against you.
Vera: What questions do you ask yourself as your career has evolved to ensure you head in the right direction?
Chim: Honestly, I don’t have any questions I ask myself. I just go with the flow and pursue what I believe feels right for me. If something feels uncomfortable, I will analyze it and weigh out my options, but that is very rare – I am a bit of a risk taker and love a good challenge, so if something feels right or I strongly believe in something, I will pursue it.
Vera: What’s the biggest career hurdle you’ve personally had to overcome?
Chim: I’ve been fortunate enough to have not come across any notable hurdles during my career. There were the day to day work hurdles that I had to overcome to deliver my work objectives, but nothing too strenuous or worth noting.
Vera: When you hit a wall not knowing what to do, what do you do?
Vera: What are you most proud of achieving and how do you keep your edge?
Chim: There are so many things I’m proud of to be fair, but I guess my industry awards (4 in total plus a commendation) are the ones I’m most proud of as they are an external validation of all that I have accomplished in my career as Quantity Surveyor.
Vera: What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were starting out?
Chim: How to get the perfect work-life balance! I’m somewhat of a workaholic, but I’m slowly getting the balance right!
Vera: What would you recommend as the key sources of learning that especially young women should actively pursue?
Chim: Maintaining your Continued Professional Development either through structured reading or training is really important and key in ensuring you remain up to date on key professional initiatives. Also, having a mentor in your chosen field is a good idea as they can assist in your career development and point you in the right direction.
Vera: What values have been your cornerstones and stood the test of time?
Chim: Number one for me is treating others with respect always and equally. I’m not one to treat people better or worse because of their job title, what they do or how much they earn. If you respect people regardless of their background and do not look down on people, you will go far in life. I think that has helped me in my career and my life in general. I have no time for snobs or people who think they are better than you because of the money they earn or their position in an organisation!