Kathryn Iliffe low res-1

Kathryn Iliffe is a highly experienced Senior Project Manager in the museum sector.  She joined BECK 14 years ago, initially as Personal Assistant to the Board Director for Museums, quickly taking on project work.  Kathryn spent nearly a decade delivering some of the most prestigious projects in the BECK Museum portfolio in the UK, Europe, and the Middle East, initially as an Assistant Project Manager and then as a Project Manager.

Now a Senior Project Manager, Kathryn has oversight across several cultural projects and works closely with the Senior team to develop and mentor new and existing team members, review systems currently in place and feedback on how the business can advance working practices within the sector.


What do you enjoy most about your role and the industry?

“I love the creativity, the challenges and the problem solving.  Also, the projects I get to work on and building relationships with our clients and professional teams.  Every single project I deliver has a different challenge, theme, and a different client and professional team. You can have a project at the Natural History Museum, to an Art Gallery or immersive experience in Saudi Arabia.  It never stops being interesting.  The people we work with really care about what they’re doing, as we are passing information and experiences down to the next generations.

I also really enjoy working collaboratively, we have a really experienced team of individuals who work together to deliver iconic projects of varying scales and complexities.

We have a saying at BECK, ‘Make the impossible possible’ and that genuinely is the case for many of the projects we work on.  We take an incredible design and find ways to bring it to life.  I also love working through a challenge and collaborating with our specialist partners.”

What has been your biggest career achievement so far?

“Delivering the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre in Kuwait.  In the beginning there was nothing there but six empty, three-story aircraft hangars, with a design outline for each museum, an overall budget and no collection.  We carried out an enabling works phase, so the building went from a multi-purpose space to something that could be used as a cultural centre and education space.

BECK’s role as construction manager was to manage and administer the entire exhibition design and fit-out for the six individual museum spaces in one consecutive period over 24 months.

Everything in the museum was made, sourced, or built specifically for the project.  It was such an achievement.  I was involved from the offset of the project so was heavily involved in the development of all the spaces.


What would you say to women who are concerned about entering a male dominated environment or who haven’t considered a career in construction?

“It can feel intimidating to enter a male-dominated industry, but you must do what you really love.

There is no getting away from the industry being male-dominated, and I currently work mainly with men.  Often in the Museum & Heritage Sector you can find there a lot of women in the design and client side and being a woman in this industry can be an advantage because you have things in common straight away.

Construction is so broad.  There are so many different paths, and the skills are so transferrable. I didn’t come from a background of construction so I feel like everything can be learnt.  Project Management is great as you get to try various things in the industry.  Then you might decide you would be better as a Design Manager or Commercial Manager.  We don’t just work on building sites; there’s also a significant amount of off-site prefabrication involved.

Many people start in admin and get to know the industry from the ground up.  Apprenticeships and school leavers doing work experience can also give you a taste of working in different departments.  People don’t generally have a full understanding of all the aspects that go into construction.”

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is ’Inspiring Inclusivity’.  What more can the workplace do to ensure women feel included in any industry they choose?

“While the directors at BECK have been incredibly supportive, I still feel the need to constantly justify myself to my peers within the wider industry. You still want to feel like an equal, so you find yourself justifying the reasoning behind why you work certain hours, for example.  I haven’t just forgotten everything I’ve ever learnt and become a different person because I’ve been on maternity leave or had a child; I’ve probably become stronger.  Don’t just discount me because I haven’t been here the whole time.

I have seen improvements in the industry, but I don’t see it eradicated yet.  I think back to myself before I had children and if a woman was part time or had to leave meetings to get her children, I would sometimes think “That’s frustrating, we need to get this done.”  But I have more compassion now because I’m that person.  We need more women in senior roles, more women decision makers.

I’m such an advocate that it’s not just about maternity or women having children.  People need have a work life balance to get the best out of them.”


Have you seen a change in the industry since you joined, are women more visible?

“Without a shadow of a doubt.  While women are still the minority, there have been lots of changes.  Our Financial Director is the first female on the BECK Board and that’s a hugely positive step.  Over the last five to ten years, I have seen more women stepping into senior roles across the industry generally, which is fantastic.”