Stereotypes are hard to shake. Misconceptions are difficult to correct. Fear is a challenge to overcome. For decades, construction has been considered by many as a ‘man’s profession’, with many women scared to enter the construction workforce. For some, it was never even on their radar as a possible career path.
Images of “macho” men who all share a strong camaraderie, wolf whistling whenever a woman even past a construction site used to spring to mind. People used to imagine male construction workers sharing banter that would border on the line of inappropriate by today’s standards if they worked alongside a female colleague. Equally, men often wouldn’t know how to react to women on construction sites, with such ‘banter’ often only intending to be a bit of innocent fun, but always shrouded in uncertainty in how a woman would perceive and interpret it.
Despite stereotypes both inside and outside the construction industry persisting, things are looking up. Earlier this month Roofing Today magazine ran an article that insulation manufacturer YBS reported female staff working at its Creswell factory have enjoyed solid career development and that the business had benefited hugely from it. Women currently occupy roles from production and administration up to senior management, with positions like National Sales Manager, Sales Office Manager, and more recently, Marketing Manager, being successfully filled by women at the company.
Women in construction often enjoy fulfilling and rewarding careers. Natasha Childerley, who joined YBS as a machine operator before progressing to become Customer Service Supervisor, told Roofing Today: “I enjoy what I do and feel proud to have progressed in my role.”
There are some brilliant and popular industry events to promote the positive and welcoming attitude towards women in construction. The Women in Construction Summit was held at Olympia London on 16th May and attended by over 700 people who gained industry insights from over 60 speakers and benefited from 30 sessions and networking. The Summit aims to re-ignite women’s passion for construction by inviting empowering women to speak at the event and creating a lively community of like-minded professionals.
June 24th will see female roofers takeover Vox Conference centre, Resort World in Birmingham for the Women Roofing Conference 2019, with this year’s theme being ‘choosing change’. The ethos of the event is to celebrate the commitment, contribution and enthusiasm that women bring to the roofing industry.
Research also shows that people are becoming more open to the idea of having a female manager. In January 2018, human resources company, Randstad surveyed more than 5,400 construction, property, engineering and rail professionals in a bid to discover what the key barriers and challenges were that women faced on the journey to senior leadership. When asked how having a female manger would impact construction workers’ jobs, a staggering 93% of respondents said it would either stay the same or have a positive effect. You can read the interesting Randstad ‘Women in Construction: the Race to Gender Equality’ survey here.
According to the construction career website, GoConstruct, women make up around 14% of the professionals in the construction industry in the UK BUT the website states that it believes that this figure can only increase, with more and more women now opting for construction jobs.
Although the industry as a whole needs to work on improving the statistics of the number of women working in construction, the reality of most women in construction actually paints a more positive picture of the experience some women have in the industry.
One such lady who has enjoyed (and still is enjoying!) a worthwhile career in construction is our Group SHEQ (Safety, Health, Environment and Quality) Manager, Sarah Burke [pictured right with our Senior Contracts Manager, Peter Baker].
Having previously held the title of Group Health and Safety Training Coordinator at our company, Sarah has been a valuable member of the Avonside staff since September 2014. She is both an Associate Member and Technical Member of IOSH (Institution of Occupational Health and Safety – the world’s biggest professional health and safety membership organisation) and a Licentiate member of the Institute of Roofing.
“I have been in the construction industry for 5 years.
“When I first joined Avonside, I had left what you might call a “male dominated” occupation (the police force) to join another but I was somewhat daunted by construction because of the image I had in my mind of construction sites.”
“I think the initial impression I had of a construction site was somewhat like the ‘Auf Wiedersein Pet’ days where all the guys sat round and had the banter, sometimes to the extreme.
“My imagination ran so wild, with me thinking that I would walk into a site cabin and everyone would turn around to look ‘OMG there is a woman on site!’
“The truth is, the industry is far more professional than people give it credit for. Particularly roofing. There is a misconception that you fell into construction because you couldn’t succeed at anything else.”
“I am in awe at some of the projects that our roofers are out there working on.”
“While I have heard people, such as speakers at the Women in Construction conferences speak about negative experiences, for example in relation to comments about their physical ability like “Are you okay coming up this scaffold love?”, I haven’t experienced anything negative within the industry myself.
“Everyone that I have encountered within the industry have been very friendly and have welcomed me as a woman within the industry. I can honestly say my misconceptions were flipped on their head almost straight away!
“I feel that women have a very calming influence on site. In fast paced situations whereby, deadlines have to be met and construction staff are under significant strain I have found that men respect women for the way they can put issues across. I have also seen that, although roles can be physically challenging, there are females that are getting stuck into trades.
“I enjoy walking onto sites where a male and female site manager and assistant site manager are working together to get projects completed.
“The CITB Go Construct website states that 14% of industry professionals are female. We should look to encourage more females into the industry, into all roles across the board.
“No two days are ever the same for me. I love getting out onto site and getting stuck in with the guys. Having technicalities explained to me and coming up with solutions together is hugely enjoyable.
“Males and females in construction can be a very positive blend! Being a female in construction does not put you at a disadvantage!
“I would even encourage my daughter to go for one of her career ambitions of being an Architect, because I know that she would be well received by the industry.
“I also don’t think we should allow the industry to distinguish between male and female roles, we can all to the same things, we just achieve the end results differently!”
With the roofing industry in particular facing issues such as the skills shortage, embracing half the population for recruitment seems like a no-brainer! As a proud equal-opportunities employer, Avonside currently employ 75 women (out of a workforce 292), with one appointment of a female employee to senior management just eight months ago. We look forward to increasing numbers of women contributing their valuable skills, experience, and knowledge to our company in the future!