Women Where Art Thou

At a time when the industry is facing a skills shortage and young adults are considering their next steps in their careers, Joanne Holmes wonders, “Where are all the girls?”

The notion that you can’t be ‘feminine’ in the construction industry must be dispelled, and ‘women in construction’ aren’t always females wearing hard hats – this was the main takeaway message from a three-day careers advice event I attended recently in Lincolnshire.

Standing in front of 160 year six children is unusual in my job as a manager at Lindum, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to future employees at Boston College.

‘The construction industry is not for girls,’ I said emphatically.

It’s not just for boys…for it’s everyone. We all benefit from the industry’s new schools, houses, hospitals, roads, airports, football stadiums, and leisure centres, so why shouldn’t we all be involved in their creation?’

The construction industry is in desperate need of young adults who are interested and passionate about working in the industry, which, as I explained, is more than just donning a hard hat. Anyone interested in art and design should consider architecture; if they are good with numbers, quantity surveying or engineering may be a good option; people who are good with their hands and enjoy making things should consider a craft skill; and problem solvers should consider site management or planning. The best thing about working in construction is that it is a vibrant and exciting industry.

Lindum is a member of the East Midlands Property Alliance, which operates an innovative training academy throughout the region. Young people are being trained in key skills such as building, joinery, site management, and surveying to drive the next generation of construction workers – it’s opportunities like these that we need to promote to ensure the industry’s long-term viability.

Almost 500 young people participated in the construction taster event, where they gained hands-on experience in a variety of construction-related jobs, including bricklaying, plastering, joinery, decorating, and technical skills such as plant vehicle maintenance, quantity surveying, planning, and professional skills from The Institute of Civil Engineers, bridge building, and land surveying.

At the end of the day, each activity leader selected one student who had most impressed them. On day one, 18 of the top achievers in each of the 20 activities were female. Fantastic – job well done!

The next two days drew year eight, nine, and ten students, the majority of whom were young men – where were all the girls?

I understand that we all grow and change, but it made me wonder… why did I stick with it? When my parents said a Sindy House was too expensive for me at the age of eight, I built my own. I knew when I was 14 that I wanted to work in technology. I did a work placement at a Rover garage, and my (female) physics teacher had described engineering to me as ‘practical physics,’ so I knew it was the path for me. I was hooked after attending a WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) summer school at the University of Bath.

Since I was ten, my mother has worked in the construction industry (as a PA to a finance director) and has been involved in many aspects of a growing family Construction Group. It was always in the back of my mind as I listened to stories about her work at home. As I grew up, key people in my life (parents, grandparents, teachers) allowed me to pursue my ‘hobbies’: problem solving, math, and making things – by no means a unique set of interests.

So, how do we keep the ladies interested? I would encourage any parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles reading this to remind the young people in their family of their enthusiasm in year 6 and to find a way to keep it going when peer pressure gets in the way.

At a recent Women in Construction event, I heard Janet Becket from Carbon Saver UK speak about her career in the industry, and she suggested that images of women in hard hats are unhelpful, but if you google ‘women in construction,’ that’s exactly what you get. She, like me, rarely wears a hard hat in her current position. The majority of her work is done in smart offices, on computers, and in design meetings with other professionals.

When male colleagues have asked me how to recruit more women, I have always struggled to respond because I just knew it was the right thing for me. Now that I know how I’m going to respond, I’m going to suggest that they go to the next ‘Women in Construction’ event and participate in the discussion. Back to my previous point, ‘it’s not just for girls or boys; it’s for everyone.’ This also applies to recruitment.

Can procurement teams have an impact on gender balance? By keeping it local, I believe so. I’ve been a STEM and construction ambassador for 17 years, but most of my colleagues with families would prefer to be able to work close to home, especially women with young children.

We can help to make our industry more appealing to women by selecting local contractors through dedicated frameworks such as East Midlands Property Alliance, which is committed to local recruitment.

Last Updated on December 30, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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