WOMEN working on construction sites marking International Women’s Day say they are seeing more female faces alongside them than ever before – but more needs to be done to encourage others. Stonewood Partnerships, based in Tormarton and Castle Combe, now has women in almost half its roles, many of whom are members of Women in Property, which promotes female progression in the industry.
Planning Manager Holly Simkiss, who has been visiting sites for 15 years, says the complexion is gradually changing, but not quickly enough. Before joining Stonewood last year she was a planning officer at Stroud District Council. “Before I started at Stroud it was predominantly all male but there has definitely been a shift in the tide and there are far more women in planning in local government now,” she said.
She said being a woman on site 15 years ago was far more challenging than it is today. “I have been on site in the past and I definitely have felt like I have had to have explanations dumbed down for me because they think I won’t get it. Now I think it is a given that I understand, it’s a very level playing field.”
She said her early experiences on site were probably shaped more by her lack of experience than any prejudice. “There is a massive anxiety when you are going on to a site and it is all men, particularly as a planning officer when you are a decision maker,” she said. “It was like pack mentality, all blokes together and ‘we’ll show the woman’ but that has changed massively, it just doesn’t happen anymore.
“Interestingly, now when I meet consultants for things like highways and transport, ecology or landscaping on site, most of them are other women and that’s not a conscious decision on my part to instruct other women, that’s just the way it is now.”
She feels still more must be done to encourage younger girls to consider construction as a career. “I think there’s a place for it because there is a perception that girls will shy away from jobs in construction and you need women like me saying ‘no you could do it, you should do it’. Those who are working in this environment should be telling girls that it is a good place to be, an equal place to be.”
When assistant site manager Maisie Lapham first wanted to enter the sector as a painting and decorating apprentice at 19, everyone she knew discouraged her. “My family and friends tried to talk me out of it, they said it was a man’s job and said I wouldn’t like it,” she recalled. “I stuck to my guns and I was proved right. I am so pleased I chose construction because I love the hands-on nature of it, I like problem-solving and I’m out on site and not in an office all day.”
She said although the male-dominated environment was daunting at first she soon earned the respect of her older colleagues. “I was 19 when I first went on site and I was really nervous but the blokes I worked with were absolutely fine with me. Everyone stares at you when you are first on a new site but as the years have gone on I don’t get as many looks so I think the men are getting used to it,” she said.
“Since I’ve been a site manager I’ve found that often the men prefer to deal with a woman because I can be calmer, so it does work in my favour. I’ve also grown in confidence and I won’t tolerate being spoken back to. I’m strong enough to stand up for what I know is right.”
Fear was also an emotion Assistant Quantity Surveyor Lily Elder first experienced on site when she started working at Stonewood two years ago. “I was terrified, I think it was because it was male dominated and at that time I was the only female on the construction side,” she said.
“But I’ve grown in confidence now and I really don’t think being a woman makes the job harder. But you still need to have a little bit of strength to stand your ground when you are in dispute with someone. There’s no obvious sexism but sometimes there is a tone when you are telling someone they haven’t won a contract.”
Sales and Marketing Manager Jasmine Endersby attends Women in Property events and feels there is a need for bodies like it. “I think it has a role to play in breaking down barriers even more,” she said. “As a mum of three girls I am all for empowering women to believe they can be anything they want to be. The only way you can break down stereotypes is through education and having role models to inspire people at a young age.”
Stonewood is planning to run workshops with local schools to highlight the opportunities in construction. “We’ll have people from different departments to do talks so young people can see who is in roles like builders and architects, so having female faces there will be important,” said Jasmine.
The high percentage of women in key roles at Stonewood is encouraging, she said. “Generally in construction the male-female diversity is quite low but at Stonewood Partnerships it is 43 per cent female and the roles are spread right across all the disciplines, in construction, technical and commercial, which is great,” she added.
“I am proud to work at a company where women are treated with respect – not just as females but as equals who are good at our job. Everyone’s viewpoint is respected no matter who you are.”