As a woman working in construction I am often asked how I find the job, and how I deal with working within a predominantly male environment. People want to know if it’s different and if it’s hard to work with a largely male workforce. My response is always the same, it’s a varied and interesting job and the only difficulties you have are not related to people being male, but are because some people can be narrow minded, male or female.
I believe that while it would be good to have more women in the industry, it is more important to ensure the skills gap is filled and this should be by both men and women. There is an obvious shortage in trainees and apprentices across the industry from trades through to management. Unfortunately, it seems that the promotion of the opportunities within the industry are becoming increasingly focussed towards women when it should, in my opinion, be aimed at both men and women equally.
My route in to the industry was through a trainee technician job at a consultancy before moving in to main contracting and specialist contracting. I was sponsored by my employers to attend university one day a week to gain my degree as well as completing an NVQ 6. The initial advert for my first job was open to all and I hope that I got the job as the right candidate, not because of my gender. I have worked in roles where I am regularly the only woman on site, this never fazes me. I led a team of 60 on the North Wales Prison in Wrexham when working for a specialist contractor. The contractor had never had a woman within their site team before and I was fortunate enough to be appointed as Project Manager on their largest project. I found that my experience from main contracting was invaluable on this large scheme and there were never any issues being a female in this role, in fact, in some situations it seemed to be an advantage and to have a calming influence.
My personal experience has shown me that the industry has a lot to offer with many different roles from site based positions through to office roles. Different roles appeal to different individuals and I believe the key to achieving diversity is by promoting these opportunities to students of all ages both male and female. Recently I have been asked to assist with talks to schools and have been surprised to find that only women were being invited so that the school children could see that there are women within the construction industry. This type of positive discrimination worries me as we risk alienating the young men who are needed along with more women.
I believe we need to now evaluate the messages we are sending out as an industry to ensure we are not inadvertently creeping in to positive discrimination rather than raising awareness to all. Our industry is very attractive, presenting opportunities for studying and work at the same time allowing employees to gain meaningful qualifications at the same time as experience. Perhaps it’s time for the energy that’s being used to promote roles to women to be used instead to re-energise the drive for apprenticeships and day release studying for all.