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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 22-Oct-15 15:19:17

Guest post: Women in construction - "The industry is changing"

Only 14% of construction professionals are women, but Go Construct are determined to see this change. Here, Sally Varley shares her experience of working in the industry.

Sally Varley

Go Construct

Posted on: Thu 22-Oct-15 15:19:17


Lead photo

"I've encountered men who thought women didn't 'belong' in construction."

Throughout my career, I have worked with some male colleagues who have doubted my ability to cope emotionally and physically when things got tough. Others have not batted an eye and let me get stuck in.

I've always prided myself on my determination to succeed and to be better than the next candidate - whether they're male or female. Throughout my career I have worked in predominantly male environments: agriculture, the RAF, and, most recently, construction. In every field, I encountered men who thought that women didn't 'belong' there, but this is definitely changing.

As a woman joining the RAF in the 1980s I was in a definite minority and sexism was far more flagrant than it is today. However, I went on to have a successful career in military aviation, including three years as team manager for the Red Arrows.

At the end of my military contract I was keen to join a new industry. Construction wasn't the first thing that came to mind, but through a period of work experience with Carillion I was introduced to the world of commercial business and construction. I swapped my high viz vest on the airfield for one on a building site, but the two environments were more similar than I could ever have imagined. I was immersed in the safety culture and risk management in the aviation industry, which was a huge strength when I moved into construction, and afforded me a level of credibility and respect, even as a new starter.

Women working in male-dominated fields have a responsibility to encourage girls to consider less 'traditional' careers if we are ever to see a diverse workforce. We need successful women to act as role models for the next generation of workers.

I feel like my career in construction is only just starting, but I really enjoy the environment. It's fascinating to be exposed to all the the unseen elements of planning, logistics, site management and welfare support, and watching a building take shape gives me an immense sense of satisfaction. I also work with apprentices, and for them to know that they have contributed in some small way to a new building in their community gives a sense of pride and ownership.

We need to impress upon young people how valuable the skills they have may be in less 'obvious' industries. With the right ambition and skill-set, both men and women can be incredibly successful in construction, but we need to make sure it is seen as a valuable prospective career path.

It is also vital that schools are equipping students with the tools they need to succeed in the workplace. However, many students leave education able to pass exams but unable to thrive in employment, and this is inevitable while so much emphasis is placed on results and league tables over vocational skills.

Women working in male-dominated fields also have a responsibility to encourage girls to consider less 'traditional' careers if we are ever to see a diverse workforce. We need successful women to act as role models for the next generation of workers.

As the women who joined the construction industry in the last decade move into the top jobs, hopefully more women will see it as a career where they can progress and succeed. While the gender imbalance won't correct itself overnight, the landscape of construction is set to change.

To find out more about careers in construction, visit Go Construct's website.

By Sally Varley

Twitter: @GoConstructUK

BetaVersion Thu 22-Oct-15 15:28:14

My niece was recruited straight after A levels and is now having her university degree (part time) sponsored by a major housebuilder. They are very impressed with her and she has been promoted a few times already.

She is doing really well and loving her job. Now she just needs a fair chance once she gets off the graduate programme. That is typically where women start to lose out once they get into childbearing years where job offers and promotions are much more at the discretion of regional office (usually male) managers.

BillyBullshitter Thu 22-Oct-15 16:58:39

This is an interesting post but is about women in senior roles in construction where their power can play a part in negating the sexism that women encounter in male-dominated industries.

What interests me is the experiences of women builders, those at the lower status levels of the industry working not only in an industry numerically dominated by men but in a culturally masculine environment.

When I was leaving school I wanted to be a bricklayer but was persuaded against it by several of my dad's friends who were of the opinion it wasn't a good job for a woman- (a) because women aren't as capable of it hmm and (b) because it's such a sexist environment that women wouldn't be able to muck in with the blokes and would have a miserable time.

I decided not to pursue an apprenticeship but I have always wondered since about female builders and their experiences.

Enlightened Sun 25-Oct-15 21:47:31

My family are all peace work bricklayers in the north of England, I wouldn't do it for all the tea in China. The industry is a killer physically (after 30 years in all weathers), it is also very cylical be prepared to actually be told to f* of during a recession. No pension, holidays or sick pay and I'm sure more people are killed in building than any other industry.

skankingpiglet Mon 26-Oct-15 22:27:04

I'm a carpenter, I have a DD and won't be encouraging her to follow me into the industry. Maybe as an architect or similar if things hugely improve in the next 17yrs, but certainly not as a tradesman. I love the work but the environment is really hard work. A man starts on a site and his competence is assumed, I start and I have to prove I know which end of my hammer to hold, let alone any advanced skills. It's draining, when I just want to do my job. Sometimes I'm accepted within the week, sometimes it takes months, and sometimes it just never happens. You are always working with new people, so this proving yourself never ends.
Then there's the whole pornographic images (we're talking fully nude, legs parted) pinned to the walls and the like as apparently 'that's what it's like in the building game, you'll just have to lump it if you work here'... It just proves the value women have in those environments sigh

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