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Construction 3D Printing CEO Reflects on Being Female in Construction

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Natalie Wadley, CEO of ChangeMaker3D, could hear the words of her daughter sitting next to her resounding in her head. “Mum, MUM, you’ve won!” Wadley had just won the prestigious 2023 West Midlands Women-in-Tech Award, in the category of “Best Use of Tech in a Private Sector Project.”

The “tech” that Wadley rode to the winner’s circle was additive construction (AC). Wadley and her husband Luke co-founded ChangeMaker3D, an AC company in Worcestershire, U.K. that focuses on the subset of additive manufacturing used to build homes with concrete walls from the ground up. The digital construction technology uses concrete-extruding robotic arms and groundbreaking parametric architecture and CAD software instead of wooden studs, hammer and nails, to print homes, buildings and other structures out of strong, fireproof, pest proof and sustainable “low carbon” concrete.

Sustainability and Construction 3D Printing at ChangeMaker3D

3DPrint.com Executive Editor Joris Peels and Maxwell Bogue interviewed Wadley back in July 2023. In the episode, Wadley gave us a ground-floor view of the real potential, as well as some of the difficulties encountered with the emerging AC technology.

Although many of the larger AC startups print concrete homes and buildings as well as sell their digital robotic technology, both hardware—robotic printers, of which there now are several varieties—and software—now infused with AI-driven technology. The Wadleys choose to concrete print green, sustainable, socially beneficial and responsibly designed projects, including water infrastructure, train infrastructure, and even a groundbreaking public toilet, in addition to cutting-edge homebuilding.

Nor is Wadley shy in relaying her mission. A company description announces, “We stand for a sustainable built environment… Design for the built environment is entering a new era: one that demands a sustainable approach. It’s time to build greener solutions . . . and 3D Concrete Printing is the answer… From the materials we use, to the designs and robotic process – everything is centered on our ability to leave a lighter footprint on our planet.”

Winning Women in Tech

After receiving the prestigious Women in Tech award, and with International Women’s Day 2024 just passed, Wadley’s senior team at work insisted that she write about the significance of her award in light of the occasion. In her piece, posted on her LinkedIn page, Wadley first recalls the moment she was called to the stage:

“I had actually won. I vaguely heard the music playing and could see hundreds of women in the crowd beaming with pride as they watched me walk past, making my way to the stage. I stood there, blinded by the spotlights now shining on me and held the award that had been thrust in my hand. ‘Well done Natalie. Smile. Look this way.’”

The Wadleys hugging a piece of 3D printed infrastructure. Image courtesy of ChangeMaker3D.

She then describes her feelings in those first few seconds up on the stage in the blinding lights as she received her award. “People say that in these moments, time slows down and I can confirm that to be the case. I remember standing there just processing that I had won an award for Women in Tech. Recalling the first moment that Luke and I decided to set up ChangeMaker3D and a quick flash through of each and every crazy moment that had led to me standing on this stage. Being recognized for every said crazy moment that had gone before.”

Hard Questions for ConTech

But it’s not all bright lights, dazzle and glitter. Wadley wastes no time in posing some hard questions to the construction industry, and the construction technology (ConTech) sector in particular—questions she herself ponders on a regular basis:

“What does it mean to be a woman in construction,” she asks, and “how is International Women’s Day helping to achieve gender equality? How far has the industry gone to embrace women, and how much further is there left to go before women in construction just feels like business as usual?”

3D printed water chamber created by ChangeMaker3D. Image courtesy of ChangeMaker3D.

And with specific regard to her Women in Tech award, she wonders, “What does it really mean, how is this level of recognition for women in ConTech really helping to shift the dial on gender balance, equality and the collective voice of women in the sector?”

At 3DPrint.com, we felt her answers deserved a much broader audience. The ConTech sector still needs pushing and encouraging to embrace diversity.

Wadley sees a parallel between the ConTech industry’s reticence to fully embrace women in construction on parity with men, and its resistance to fully embracing many newly emerging digital construction technologies, like the “alternative” AC technology being pioneered and offered by ChangeMaker3D in the U.K. She sees the gender equality issue through both macro and micro lenses. Focusing on the big picture, she asks, “What is ConTech doing at the industry level to inspire and bring more women into the sector?”

Addressing Inequality in Construction

She could not be clearer about what she is doing about it. “I am aware that I have a platform, a voice from which to talk about the journey of ChangeMaker3D and myself as a female founder and CEO. I care deeply about using it to reach out to those who are both within, and yet to join the sector.”

Wadley is as deeply committed to walking her talk in the confines of her own company, where the team is “working hard” to achieve gender and pay equality at ChangeMaker3D. Moreover, Wadley is “keen to push this further at the Board level and have a balanced female representation across our Senior Team.”

There is much work to be done to achieve gender parity in all sectors of the construction industry, she reminds us. “[O]n the fairly rare occasion when I join a meeting and there are other women also taking part it reminds me that the wider industry is a long way from a balanced position.” Yet Wadley still manages to view her cup as half full, reminding us to “celebrate the distance traveled” and recognize we are “actively shifting the dial.” She observes there are “many, many female founders that are driving forward with impactful startups, both in the U.K. and internationally,” and believes support for the funding of female-founded startups is growing as well.

International Women’s Day 2024 and women in construction

For Wadley, parity for women on par with men has been her goal, not just gender equality in the construction industry or ConTech, but in business and beyond. She deeply believes in the need for “equality across the board. Diversity that strengthens the collective, and creates a more tolerant, adaptable and intuitive workforce.”

Although she recognizes International Women’s Day does serve to illuminate and focus the gender equality discussion, and for that reason took up her pen in accordance with her colleagues’ wishes, Wadley knows that “in reality this is a 365 24/7 challenge, from the unconscious bias to the outright misogynistic behaviors that need calling out.”

Despite any experiences with unconscious bias or outright misogynistic behaviors in the construction industry, Wadley seems extremely optimistic: “Every time I wear a hard hat I have yet to experience any inequality or reduction in opportunities for me to have a meaningful and fulfilling role.” She gives credit to the onsite work behaviors she has personally experienced “which have made me proud of the change that is taking place in our industry.”

So, how do we challenge women’s perceptions of a career in construction and get them to trust that the construction site is a welcoming and positive place to be? Take it from last year’s West Midlands Women in Tech award winner, Natalie Wadley:

“It is only by getting onto a construction site that women have the opportunity to experience how positive it can be.”

The industry needs role models and awareness raising, she urges, to show the construction site is a space that women can, and do thrive in. We know at least one young woman who has been paying careful attention to the wisdom of her founder-mum. That would be the Wadley’s daughter, who just officially took on the title of Apprentice at ChangeMaker3D!

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