Women in construction - "The industry is changing"

women construction

Sally Varley shares her experience of working in the construction industry.

"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.

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.

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