“10 things I’ve learned about being a woman in the construction industry” by Claire Crook
Claire Crook is a Director at Churchill Hui and an advocate for talented women to fulfil technical roles. As more and more females are succeeding in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions, Claire takes a look at 10 things she’s learned about being a woman in the construction industry today.
1. A career in construction can be as rewarding as any other
A lot of women I meet didn’t intend to work in construction, but find it offers challenges, rewards and a sense of accomplishment. Apprenticeships and work experience are helping to introduce a variety of career ideas to school children which is really positive. I started out as a PA at Churchill Hui when my son was three (he’s now 21) and have progressed to Director level, requiring in-depth knowledge of construction process, contracts and law. I believe it’s never too late to re-train or get a new qualification. We encourage our Project Assistants to undertake qualifications to become Project Managers and offer flexible working to everyone (not just women with children) for a greater work/life balance.
2. Don’t sell yourself short
When you meet people, introduce yourself and your role as a key part of the team. If you’re chairing a meeting, sit at the head of the table. Don’t feel you have to agree with other women in the room, just because they are women.
3. Site toilet facilities are not glamorous
‘Functional’ is about right. Expect to find that the ladies’ toilet doubles up as a store or site manager’s own.
4. Dress to impress… or not!
My week can consist of a site visit, day at the office, client meetings and evening networking, so my wardrobe is a real mix. Jeans and riggers (steel toe-capped boots) for climbing ladders, smart for meetings and casual for office days. There are plenty of opportunities to get glammed up though, like awards nights or charity events.
5. Greeting protocol should be comfortable
A handshake is a perfectly acceptable greeting for colleagues – male or female. You’re not being standoffish, or cold… simply professional. At a more relaxed event you may greet, or be greeted, with a kiss on the cheek, but it’s certainly not an expectation if you’re not comfortable with it.
6. Name badges were not designed for dresses
At networking events, it’s handy to wear a cardigan or jacket so you have somewhere to clip your name badge, where it can be read clearly. Otherwise you risk pinning it somewhere too low, too high or too awkward. Pockets are also a handy store for business cards so you’re not faffing about in the depths of your bag (who knows what you might pull out).
7. One size doesn’t fit all
We’re talking about PPE - that’s boots, hat and gloves. Spares on site are generally larger than the average woman’s size, and you don’t really want to be wearing three pairs of socks to get some oversize boots to stay put as you traipse through mud.
8. You’re one of the boys
In communications you’ll possibly encounter slip-ups such as being addressed as a group of ‘gents’ or ‘chaps’. I don’t think this is intentionally ignorant, but if it offends, point it out.
9. A fair amount of networking is sport-based
In a male-dominated industry I think it’s assumed that networking at sports matches is going to appeal to all, but that’s a bit stereotypical. As a company we have socialised over beer tasting, Christmas panto and indoor crazy golf with cocktails (check out Swingers) where the emphasis is on fun. I’m actually a big rugby fan, so thank you to a brilliant client who invited me to Twickenham Stadium twice last year!
10. Your industry needs you!
Women are under-represented at conferences and seminars, particularly in the speaker line up. Industry events are great learning, networking and PR opportunities for yourself and your company, so try to get involved. There are also women-specific groups such as WISH (Women in Social Housing) which are useful to follow on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Thank you to the Churchill Hui ladies - Alexandra, Di, Sonia, Natalie, Gill, Marie and Rita – for their input and observations. I’m pleased to hear that the construction/housing industry is a positive and motivating career choice, so don’t be put off entering the profession, going for promotion or being the only female in the meeting room. Diversity of talent, experience, character and gender is what makes a successful all-round team.
Connect with Claire Crook via LinkedIn