How did you get to where you are now? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
If someone had told my younger self that I was going to be part of a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) at a construction company - I would not have believed it. However, here we are and what a journey it’s been! My Grandad has a small construction company in my hometown of Galicia, Spain, so I grew up spotting his legacy around town through the shapes of the buildings that he built. One of my cousins is also an Architect in Spain so it’s unsurprising that I too ended up in the construction industry.
My whole career has revolved around the built environment, and more specifically sustainable construction. At the time of completing my degree in Spain, the national revised building code included renewable energy technologies as a requirement for new buildings for the first time. Unemployment rates were high at the time so I decided to pursue a masters. I received a scholarship to study at the University of Nottingham so packed up and moved to the UK to complete a Master of Science in Sustainable Building Technology.
After finishing my studies, I had a couple of eclectic years trying to find my place… I worked for a real estate firm in Lincolnshire for a year, a non-for-profit organisation in Washington DC for 3 months, and then moved to London to join the sustainability team of a multi-disciplinary firm. Two years into the role, the opportunity to join Multiplex came up so I decided to make the move where I would be involved in a more hands-on role.
I joined in May 2014 as a Sustainability Manager where I was based full-time on one of our project sites. From there I progressed to have more involvement on a range of projects and company-wide initiatives. Five years later, I took a chance and relocated again to the Multiplex Toronto office in 2019. While there I worked on sustainability initiatives for the company, and although it was a brilliant experience, spending the pandemic so far away from home was less than ideal, so when the opportunity to move back to London as Head of Sustainability presented itself, I did not think twice!
My background is mostly sustainability but my role has since evolved to lead our social value team in the UK. I firmly believe that the two go hand in hand and our sustainability and social value teams work closely together to look at the balance between the environment and people to ensure sustainable outcomes.
What does your Head of Sustainability role actually involve?
Currently our main current focus is to deliver on our two ESG strategies: One decade to act and Leave no one behind. There are a lot of moving parts and plans that need to be in place to ensure we hit all the milestones and achieve our targets. We know we cannot do that alone, so most of my time is spent working with internal and external stakeholders to align and deliver on our ambitions, and to drive change. I am a member of several industry groups including the World Green Building Council’s Corporate Advisory Board and the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s Ethical Labour Group. Joining their meetings is a great opportunity to collaborate, learn from others and stay on top of industry trends.
Of course, there is a lot of reporting that needs to be done – for example, our annual ESG report, modern slavery statement, etc. However, I take those as chances to reflect and review on the work that has been done in the previous 12 months and highlight the areas where everyone has outperformed.
On a typical week, I usually spend time catching up individually with my direct reports, and collectively with the wider team. I personally think that human interaction (whether in person or via Teams) is key to building relationships, as well as providing people with a psychologically safe space to thrive in their role.
If someone had told my younger self that I was going to be part of a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) at a construction company - I would not have believed it.”
My name is Maria Fernandez Cachafeiro. I am 37 years old and Head of Sustainability for Multiplex Construction Europe, based in London.
I have been working in the construction industry for nearly 15 years now and I have spent most of my career working towards a sustainable built environment. My role allows me to lead the implementation and delivery of our two key ESG strategies to 2030: One Decade To Act, our decarbonisation roadmap, and our social Equity Strategy, Leave no one behind. We all know that the time to act is now, so having the opportunity to work collaboratively with the wider industry to make a positive impact on the construction sector is very rewarding.
What is it like being a woman in a Senior position and how does it feel?
I have no sisters and only one brother; on my mother's side, I have no female cousins and only boys. I also studied an Engineering degree, where there were 26 boys and 4 girls in the classroom. So, lucky for me, I am used to be being in male dominated environments.
I must admit that I have not always been as confident and comfortable sharing my opinions as I am now. When I think back to when I first joined the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), I don't think it was because it was a male-dominated group, but because I needed to build a relationship with my colleagues in the SLT, getting to know them, and, more importantly, getting used to and comfortable with my role, so that I could truly be myself.
I genuinely feel respected, supported and trusted by the team, and my personal views are heard, like anyone else’s. In all honestly, they really are a great team to work with, with sound behaviours and values on what we are working towards. When I moved back from Canada and started my role as Head of Sustainability, I was the only female in our SLT. However, two fantastic women have joined us since!
As someone in your role, how do you deal with challenges? and what keeps you motivated to keep going?
I see a psychologist and a coach on a regular basis. Despite the fact that I have a very active social life and that there is always someone to hear me out, I find that talking to professionals about any challenges I may be facing helps me manage my work-life balance. Furthermore, I enjoy routine, so I have some well-established habits. Every day I go outside and meditate for at least 10 minutes. Though it may not seem long enough, it resets my mindset every night before I go to bed. I am good at separating what happens at work with what goes on outside of the office, and so I do not usually carry too much baggage from my workday into my free time, which I very much enjoy. That includes holidays – everyone needs to disconnect and to recharge their batteries… and that includes leaders!
"I am passionate about what I do, so I find it very easy to stay motivated. Sometimes, things don’t go as plan. However, I am a very optimistic person and tend to wake up feeling re-energised every morning."
I am very lucky to work with an outstanding ESG team – their own motivation and passion also keeps me going and pushes me to do better! Despite any challenges I face, the best thing I like about my role is the people I work with and the potential to influence change within Multiplex and the wider industry.
What advice would you give a young woman aspiring to progress to senior level in the industry?
Very often, you may be the only female around the table in internal or external meetings, however, do not let that put you off, and speak up. If you feel the need to, find ways to boost your confidence that work for you, such as working closely with another colleague who can empower you or being mentored by someone. As scary (and stereotypical) as it may sound, putting yourself outside of your comfort zone will help you grow. And never, ever give up on your dreams!
Maria Fernandez Cachafeiro