By BWV reporter and photographer Laura Hillier
Our International Women’s Day event included a panel discussion that highlighted the roles of women working in the trades and construction. The discussion was chaired by Raquel Rosario Sanchez (a BWV trustee), and our panel included:
Jane Birakos – JAK’s Decoration and Design
Karin Smyth – South Bristol MP
Anne Harding – Founder of Bristol Women’s Workshop
Rosie Rogers – Construction Industry Training Board
Sexism and underrepresentation
Sexism can still be found in some areas of the trades, which can be off-putting to women wanting to enter these industries. Both Rosie and Karin described the importance of speaking up, being assertive and explaining to others why their behaviour is unacceptable, if you feel able to. Hopefully, the culture is gradually becoming more positive for women. Jane has worked in many male-dominated environments while running her business, and has generally found a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
Rosie feels that having women’s ambassadors in the construction industry can be hugely beneficial for tackling sexism, and can act as role models and supporters to women in the organisation. Karin highlighted how important visibility is for women in the trades, as this can help to show women and girls that working in the trades is an option for them.
Unfortunately, there continues to be a discrepancy between the types of education that boys and girls go for. As Karin explains, girls are more likely to enter into apprenticeships without less earning potential. This is mirrored in Rosie’s experiences, who finds there are still very few women on their books that are training in construction.
What are the benefits of the trades or construction for women?
The benefits of working in the trades can be a greater degree of flexibility over your time and the ability to dictate your own hours if you’re self-employed. As Karin points out, flexible working is often an extremely convenient work pattern for women, especially those who have caring responsibilities.
Jane says she’s never been happier since setting up her own business, partly due to the ability for her to make her own rules as a self-employed person. Additionally, the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and have a role that involves a creative process is ‘wonderful’.
Anne often asks young women that join her workshop what their reasons are for coming along. A common answer is that they spend all day looking at a screen, and having something in your home that you’ve made yourself is really special.
How to get more women in the trades and construction?
One of the main routes into construction is via apprenticeships, and there are lots of grants out there for employers (regardless of business size) that take on apprentices. Rosie emphasises the importance of letting people know that anyone can do an apprenticeship – they’re not just for young people! – and that these careers carry the possibility of progression to management roles, or to running your own business.
Karin also explained that we need to let young people know which apprenticeships are likely to lead to higher earnings, which is particularly important for women and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Anne points out that the use of tools should also be part of the school curriculum, which could boost young people’s interest in these industries.
Breaking down the barriers of gender stereotyping from a young age could also help to get more girls to consider the trades and construction. As Rosie explains, we can move away from the mentality of ‘this activity is for boys, and this activity is for girls’, and use play to foster a child’s interest in building things for themselves.
What advice or tips would you give for women and girls interested in the trades or the construction industry?
Jane: It’s all about confidence. Whatever your dream is, go for it and don’t let anyone hold you back.
Karin: Find solidary and support from other women in the industry. Go for it, you’ll have a job for life!
Anne: I want to say to young girls that these activities can be fascinating.
Rosie – We need to get young people to look at all the different trades available!
Thank you so much to our amazing panel members that joined us for this event. We’re so grateful for sharing their experiences and their help in raising the profile and visibility of women working in the trades and construction.
To find out more about our panel members and/or their organisations, the following websites may be useful: