A number of things have influenced my blog post this week, yesterday was International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action. Inspiring Change is the 2014 theme.
Secondly, Construction News published a piece on Friday entitled Jobs for the Girls about the industry still being stuck at the bottom of the table for gender balance with only 12% of women in the construction industry. I have to say I’m really shocked at this percentage and I’ve clearly had my head in the sand in this area, I know we’re in the minority but I didn’t think it was that low. I think if you see females in your workplace everyday and you make a concerted effort to network with other females in the industry then you don’t notice how few of us there actually are!
Last week was also Apprenticeship Week 2014 which is all about raising the profile of apprenticeships amongst employers, individuals, teachers, parents and the media.
Throw all of that into the melting pot and it got me reflecting back on how I got into the industry and what we can do to encourage more females to don hard hats and luminous site wear.
My favourite subject at school was woodwork, closely followed by technical drawing. I totally disliked cooking, or domestic science as it was termed. I remember trying to make soup which needed to be put into a flask to take home with me and I’d chopped the vegetables so big that I had to force them in. Not very appetising although I hasten to add I do now love cooking and baking!
I was one of only 2 girls in the whole of our school doing GCSE woodwork and I still have the book case I made (together with a drop leaf stationary compartment) in my house today. A women never likes to disclose her age but I will for the purpose of this blog, I left school in 1988 and prior to that had an idea that I wanted to be a cabinet maker or a joiner, all that changed when we went to visit a local organ builders, makers and restorers of church organs! Following a tour of their workshops I decided I wanted to work there but was told that I couldn’t apply as they had no female welfare facilities!
I then looked through a local college prospectus and found a 2 year Building Studies course, I think it was the photo of the roof truss that did it for me. After the first year we had work experience and I worked for a contractor on site in the quantity surveying department and decided that was what I wanted to do, and so I did.
Apart from a little bit of bullying from the boys at college my experiences in the industry have been really positive although aside from my college work experience, I have always worked for a consultant so I don’t know how I would have faired working for a contractor. I would like to think it would have been equally as positive although I know working on site whether you or male or female can be a tough environment.
It would be interesting to know how the 12% of women is made up, particularly how many of those are in the trades versus the professions.
My reflections prompted me to ask the question, what would a female’s experience be now coming into the industry and what makes them want to be in construction in the first place? Making a guest appearance on my blog this week is Nicola Butcher who I started following on twitter. Nicola is an 18 year old Apprentice Carpenter and I contacted her to see if she would mind answering some questions about what attracted her to work in the industry. Reading Nicola’s answers reminded me so much about me when I was younger. In her own words, ‘I’ve always been a rather practical, hands on type person, and remember doing a lot of DIY things around the house as a teenager. I built a pond in the garden at 15 as well!’
At 14 Nicola broached the subject of working in the industry to her mum who had reservations and even went for a college interview to become a beauty therapist but was turned down. She also thought about catering as an option but undertook 2 weeks work experience in carpentry and luckily was offered an apprenticeship and took it. Nicola loves what she is doing now, she has just finished carpentry and is now studying electrics and if you find her on twitter, you will see some excellent examples of her work! Again, in her own words, ‘Every day holds different opportunities for me and I have overcome many personal challenges. I love that the construction industry as a whole is becoming more accepting to females although it’s still a challenge, for guys you can walk on site and straight away you’re accepted even if you can’t do your job that well, as a girl you have to work hard-you have to do everything perfectly and prove yourself straight away. I think maybe the reason for this is although the industry as a whole’s thinking may have changed, you can’t change the thinking of people as individuals, and until we start seeing a few more women we won’t be able to change things’.
Finally, in answer to my question would she recommend it as a career, Nicola’s response was, ‘I would definitely recommend it as a career, you have to be determined and seemingly without weakness, but it is possible! Definitely for women there is a market out there and it’s a great career’.
Wise words from Nicola. This also links in to a book I’m reading at the moment by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in ‘Lean In – Women, Work and the Will To Lead’ Sheryl makes reference to a 2011 McKinsey report in the US which noted that, ‘men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments’.
Whether you are male or female, work should be about doing something you love and my utopia is that we all find roles we feel passionately about because we spend so long doing it! We definitely need to do more to spread the word in schools to encourage more young women into the industry and also change the perception that to compete with the boys we cannot show weakness and we have to be perfect.
I know there is a big push in general to attract young people into the industry and having recently been selected as an RICS Regional Board Member and a regional committee member for the Construction Industry Council I will be doing my best to spread the word about the cracking jobs for the girls in our industry.