Since 2018 I have recruited within the Public Sector for both Local Authorities and Housing Associations, and prior I spent 2 years with a large contractor – ironically doing the role I now recruit for!
In my experience, both within the repairs industry and recruiting for it, there has always been a clear gender imbalance. I started reaching to out to other Women within the industry to see if my experience was a common one and unsurprisingly it was.
This lead me to host a round table with nine women at different levels or seniority about their challenges at work, their triumphs, and most importantly, how we can bring about change!
#1: How did you get into the industry?
As a recruiter I have always asked my candidates about how they ended up on their chosen paths, the answers are always so different and really show how there are so many routes into working within Repairs, especially in the Social Housing world.
Francis got her way in through luck, first working on the repairs line for a housing association, and then doing a secondment in the trade office which later turned into a permanent role.
Niamh also “fell into it” by starting out as a Gas Administrator as a career “stop gap,” and ten years later she’s still doing it!
Interestingly, a number of my male candidates have told me they grew up with an interest in repairs/ construction but started off in more ‘hands on’ roles and then worked their way up. through apprenticeships. In line with this, research from the Young Womens’ Trust found that for every fifty male apprentices in construction there was only one female.
#2: Have you ever faced any challenges because of your gender? How did you overcome them?
I shared my experience first here speaking about a time when a male operative refused to speak to me at all as he felt I wouldn’t know what was going on. The others in the room unfortunately all had similar experiences with Audrey, then a manager, being asked if she was a secretary. She has even experienced people misreading her name as Andrew and being perplexed when they turned up to a meeting with a woman.
Obviously, we’re all still here in the industry! So, how did we overcome these challenges? I can definitely say that being hard-nosed helps – you need to be able to face down these challenges and power through them. Audrey told us about the need to be able to hold your own in the banter-filled world of Repairs- it definitely is a very boisterous industry!
#3: Have you ever considered moving?
Nobody in our conversation talked about wanting to leave the industry or change their jobs. Sure, we talked about how we might have felt unwelcome at times and faced discrimination, but we’re all still in the industry. However, we did talk about how we had to be incredibly resilient and strong to stick it out – some of Yasmeen’s colleagues even used to refer to her as a rottweiler!
But, just because we managed to stick it out in the industry doesn’t mean that every woman who experienced discrimination has – the figures speak for themselves. Women presently make up only 11%-15% of the workforce in the whole construction industry and only 1% of manual jobs.
Yasmeen told us about an incident where her daughter, an eighteen-year-old studying Engineering at a highly-rated British university, was asked by a senior tutor if she was lost when she was seen in the engineering wing! Yasmeen’s daughter eventually decided to move away from studying this subject and into teaching due to the fact she was the only female on the course and felt that “people didn’t take her seriously.”
#4: Is there more equality now? Have things improved?
Most of our group seemed to think that things were changing for the positive and companies have also seen the improvements that inclusivity can bring. However, there’s no point in having inclusivity targets if there isn’t the labour supply! We had all experienced inequality in school, from Denise being told that she couldn’t take Technical Drawing due to a made-up timetable clash, to Audrey being forced to go to an all-boys school to study one of her subjects.
So, it is safe to say that these negative attitudes are far from over. I think it’s really important to inspire young women to know that they can achieve their goals in this industry. So what advice would we give someone looking to start..
This question varies from person to person! As a recruiter, I’m always looking for that unique way I can coach the best out of people – if there was one fixed way to do this I’d be very rich! We have to appreciate people’s subtle nuances and differences.
However, generally speaking, it’s about having the strength to follow your dreams – all of the women in this video are shining examples of that! As Audrey says, if you’re passionate about something there’s no reason anything should hold you back. You need to have the confidence to fight your own corner!
Yasmeen encouraged any women reading this to be the difference – we need people to challenge the status quo and prove that women are capable of anything that men are. There’s no doubt that you’ll come up against trouble – we had all experienced disrespect at some point in our careers.
By pushing through, you’ll get to be part of a much larger change, and you’ll get the satisfaction of proving the (small minority) of doubters wrong. Success is always the best response.