Women in Construction: What’s it like to work in the construction industry?

9th November 2018

The construction – and more specifically for us – demolition industries are predominantly male-dominated. In the UK, 13.6m of workers are men and 13.3m are women –a near 50:50 split. The construction industry, however, consists of less than 300,000 women compared to over 2m men, meaning female workers total only 13% of the workforce.

Companies across the industry seem to be doing more and more to encourage women to gain qualifications and build careers within construction but there is still a gulf between where we as an industry are and where we could be.

To get a first-hand account of what it is like for women already working in the construction and demolition industries, we spoke to three of our experienced team members at Hughes and Salvidge – Nicole, Lori and Kennedy.

Nicole Hewins is the Project Coordinator for our Airports Division. Based at Heathrow Airport, she is responsible for assisting the Contracts Managers and Project Managers all the way from the planning of a project to client handover. The niche requirements and restrictions of an airport environment pose specific hurdles compared to a ‘regular’ demolition project. Nicole works closely with the airports, the Hughes and Salvidge team, any subcontractors and other stakeholders, and clients to ensure any possible issues are avoided and necessary arrangements are put in place, such as security passes, prior to project commencement.

Lori Noble has been our Health and Safety Coordinator for over four years. She oversees organising and recording all training and qualifications for the teams, administering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), site safety information and signage, first aid kits, and organising and facilitating our occupational health screenings. Lori also manages our fleet of vehicles, ensuring servicing and MOTs are current and any additional fleet requirements are hired and provided to the team. Lori is also our company Mental Health Ambassador and regularly conducts training sessions on the subject for our employees.

Kennedy Stray is the Weighbridge Administrator for our Scrap Metal Division, H&S Metals. Kennedy has worked for the company for over two years. Her role at H&S Metals includes taking weights, processing tickets, and payments and occasionally working in the yard, weighing and processing materials.


Getting into the industry

The paths into the construction and demolition industries vary from person to person. This can be through education, family ties, or through utilising transferrable skills from another industry, particularly for office-based roles. The varying nature of the routes into demolition, mean that every member of staff brings different experiences, qualifications and abilities to the table.

Historically, the familial route into construction would be encouraged of the sons of a family, ‘…and Sons’ being a staple of many a High Street or Industrial Estate, and opportunities for learning skills such as bricklaying or carpentry only offered to men.

Opportunities for learning skills that are often considered male-only are becoming more appealing to women, with colleges and universities making it clear that these are courses designed for all.

Lori, a 25-year veteran of working in male-dominated industries, having worked in outdoor pursuits and for several automotive companies prior to working with Hughes and Salvidge, thinks there has been quite a shift in how women are treated over the past decade or so.

A shift is also becoming apparent within the family route into the industries. Nicole notes that her route into the industry came through a family member and, after experiencing the construction work at the Queens Terminal at Heathrow Airport, she “realised that the industry was an exciting, forward-thinking work place, where every day could hold something new and provide challenges to keep [her] engaged”.

Kennedy, relatively fresh to the industry, gained experience of the construction industry through an Apprenticeship for a well-known housebuilder on a project that Hughes and Salvidge were also working on. After project completion, Kennedy came to work for H&S Metals, after hearing about the position through a family member who works in our offices.


Working in a male-dominated industry

Although finding a way into Construction or Demolition is becoming easier, once within the industry, it is still a very male-dominated environment.

As a woman starting out in a male-dominated industry, it can be intimidating initially, says Nicole, but this feeling can dissipate quite quickly with the right team around you. Kennedy states that her more hands-on role sometimes leads to confusion on the faces of her male customers, “it is hard work sometimes, dealing with comments from men who don’t expect you to be there, especially when you’re completing physical tasks”.

Lori agrees, but feels that things are changing, “Early on in my career, I experienced casual sexism regularly, but I’m now treated as an equal and my ability and views are considered significant. The stereotyping and prejudices have begun to disappear as the generations have changed.”

Women will be outnumbered in the industry for some time. Although the number of females is increasing, sheer numbers are not the only battle faced.


Gender equality challenges

The number of women in the industry is steadily growing but, unfortunately, issues such as pay disparity still arise, as well as not being afforded the same opportunities as male colleagues once your foot is in the door.

“Women in the industry have worked extremely hard to prove their credibility and continue to feel the need to do so in the face of the archaic view that they couldn’t compete with their male counterparts. There can be a negative stigma around a woman’s ability, but this is becoming far more uncommon”, says Nicole.

Luckily, companies are taking note and becoming more transparent with both their pay structures and diversity figures. Women are also taking stereotypes to task and forging forward with their ambitions and ideas.

“The days of always being mistaken for the secretary and asked to ‘put the kettle on, love’ are, hopefully, long gone.” – Lori


Is demolition and construction just for men?

The viewpoint that demolition is just for men is not credible, Nicole explains; there are many women who hold significant positions and are excelling within the industry, and there are many more coming through the ranks too. Having a diverse workforce supports new ideas, broadens points of view and supports a company progressing and thriving through innovation.

Nicole believes that women’s involvement is key to this and Lori agrees, “There are a host of invaluable women now in the industry.” Kennedy wraps it up even more succinctly, “some women are interested in the industry and they are coming through, so people need to deal with it”.


Advice for future generations

We asked our three participants what advice they would give future generations of women thinking of joining the industry, and this is what they responded with:

  • Stand your ground
  • Don’t be intimidated
  • Take up any opportunities you are given to learn more
  • Be confident in your own abilities
  • Be openminded to the vast opportunities the industry has to offer
  • Reach out for information
  • Be bold, believe in yourself, and be involved in an industry based on change

Hughes and Salvidge’s Managing Director, Martyn Burnett, wants to make sure that women’s achievements and skills are recognised in the construction and demolition industry to the fullest extent:

“our company promotes equal opportunities for both men and women because we recognise that it doesn’t matter about the gender of a person, as long as they can provide the key skills and experience necessary to benefit our company and our clients in terms of innovation, broadening our approach and strengthening ourselves within the industry. We are stronger with a diverse team and our successes, year-on-year, as we’ve increasingly diversified our teams and brought more women into the industry, shows that.”



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