Embracing diversity in the construction industry isn't a question of moral responsibility. It's a strategic necessity. We talk to Tracey Keep and Amanda Michael about the ongoing skills shortage and why women in construction should be the new normal.

Tracy Keep, UK Construction Specialism Group Leader at Gallagher, is a long-standing professional in the construction and insurance sectors, and emphasises the importance of assimilating a wide range of expertise to address the ongoing skill shortage in both these sectors.

Amanda Michael, Corporate Project Manager for Gallagher, echoes this sentiment, of recognising capabilities and experience regardless of gender. She emphasises that being a woman in construction should not be regarded as unusual, but the focus should instead be on bringing diverse and essential skills to bear in the field.

How did you start out in the construction and insurance sectors?

Tracey Keep: “I had yet to decide what I wanted to do, so I wrote to several people, and the first job I got was in insurance. So that's how I ended up in it, and I've been there ever since! With construction, I had several clients in different sectors, including a couple in construction, and my colleagues kept asking me, ‘What do I do about this in construction, and what do I do about that?’ And I suddenly got labelled an expert, which was quite scary then. So how did I end up doing construction insurance? I gravitated there without any plan! But I’m very glad I did.”


The construction sector is undergoing a noticeable transformation in terms of gender diversity. Tracy is a leading expert in the sector, and notes the significant changes she has witnessed over the years. Initially perceived as ‘a novelty’, Tracy has seen that women in the construction industry have gained respect through their sector knowledge and practical communication skills.

Amanda Michael agrees, noting the increasing presence of women in pivotal areas such as finance and risk management. These shifts signify a broader acceptance of women within the sector. Despite these advancements, female representation in construction remains low, with only 14%-15% of the workforce identifying as women1. Nevertheless, progress towards gender equality is evident, especially at senior levels.


The fact is that the sector needs all hands, and all experience, on deck right now. These are not easy times to be in construction. The sector serves as a bellwether for the UK economy, says Tracy, and reflects its fluctuations. Recently, there has been a dramatic post-pandemic shift from a booming market to a sudden standstill, with house builders experiencing unprecedented demand followed by a shuddering halt in the wake of economic uncertainties. This rapid change poses significant hurdles for the sector, especially concerning supply chain management and handling financial uncertainties.

Tracy is concerned. Insolvencies are becoming a common occurrence. Additionally, the sector's price-driven nature has exacerbated challenges, particularly since the necessary implementation of post-Grenfell building regulations. The insurance market, traditionally cyclical, experienced a significant shift following Grenfell, with insurers reassessing their risk exposure and tightening their underwriting criteria2. However, there has been a gradual return of capacity and expanded policy wording, indicating a positive trend in the insurance market. But, says Amanda, inflation has remained a pressing concern. This is particularly pertinent in the case of building materials, where price increases have outpaced other sectors, inevitably leading to higher premiums for construction projects.

Tracy highlights the ripple effects of inflation on the supply chain, resulting in soaring material prices and contributing to the risk of construction company bankruptcies. This long-tail effect is particularly challenging for major construction projects with extended timelines. Consequently, the sector is witnessing a gathering pace of insolvencies, highlighting the ongoing struggle to adapt to evolving market conditions.

 “As an example, steel went up by 1500% in the space of a month. So, if you've committed to a specific price contract with a vast steel frame, then you can see why so many companies are in quite a perilous position”, says Tracy.


But despite these concerns and current issues, working in the field of construction is all about understanding and traversing the uniqueness of this sector. Tracy comments that “it is an exciting area to deal with because no two days are the same. There is no standard policy or standard contract. There is no standard construction project.”

Navigating the intricacies of construction contracts, fraught with complexities and nuances, requires expertise. From Joint Contracts Tribunals (JCTs) to New Engineering Contracts (NECs), understanding responsibilities and liabilities is paramount. Insurers often mediate between parties when disputes arise, highlighting the importance of proactive risk management and clear communication. With each contract highly individual, post-Grenfell legislations and supply chain disruptions have intensified negotiations, underscoring the need for informed decision-making and partnership.

At Gallagher, our strength lies in our people and specialised expertise, says Tracy. We offer tailored solutions to diverse client needs through our unique Special Interest Group (SIG). With an open-market approach and deep-rooted relationships with construction underwriters, we provide unparalleled insights and support. "Whatever the client's problem, somebody within Gallagher can sort it out," Tracy affirms. “Our commitment to widening awareness and working collaboratively underscores our dedication to empowering clients and navigating challenges together.”

Ultimately, encouraging diversity isn't just about gender parity; it's about unlocking innovation, fostering inclusivity, and driving sustainable growth in the construction industry. As issues persist or shift, proactive cooperation and wide skill pools will be pivotal in charting a course towards a more resilient and equitable future.

What are you most proud of in your work at Gallagher?

Tracy Keep: “Where there's a particular challenge, being able to resolve it for a client. Some clients have been with me for years, and it's great to know they trust your advice. When we go and see prospects, once we've talked to them and explain how we do things, we have a very high client win rate. It's lovely that so many of them say, ‘We made the right decision moving to you,’ which sums it up. And we prove that we do what we say we're going to do, and they appreciate it. We build a genuine relationship with our clients and they stay with us for years.”

Amanda Michael: “The process we go through to win clients is very detailed. We look very closely at the cover they've got and carry out a gap analysis. This sets them off on the right foot with Gallagher because we get the cover right from day one. That's very satisfying.”