What's it Like to be a Woman in Construction?

Gerry is COMIT's Company Secretary and Financial Director. She has a degree in psychology and has worked in the construction industry for over 40 years.

This is the second in our series of posts by women working in the construction industry about the issues they face. Please see the introductory post for why we are running it.

A group of female construction workers in hi-vis clothing on site

Image source Department of Transport licensed under Creative Commons

We have all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and in my experience it rings true as a women who has worked for 40 years in the research side of the construction industry. Ok, so yes, I am blonde, petite, smile a lot and am cheeky to boot but that doesn’t mean that I am also empty-headed. My strength (until semi-retiring) has been in building services research and particularly with the M&E contracting side where I have covered a range of topics, many of which were commissioned by Government departments.

One such project was looking at abolishing retentions. I had to present my report at the House of Commons but was forewarned that the then Minister for Construction (yes we have had them occasionally) probably wouldn’t bother to attend and if he did, “well, don’t expect him to talk to you, will you - or stay for more than five minutes”. Not only was he there and stayed all evening, but he quoted from my publication to the people gathered and chatted with me about my findings.

And here’s another situation. Sometimes when appointments have been made and I have gone to a construction firm they have expected a man – Gerry actually being Geraldine. That is understandable but being welcomed rudely is not! I visited a firm in London to talk about air conditioning and particularly VAV units. The guy was obnoxious to start with having expected a man and said “Well, I suppose they’ve sent you because of your looks and you won’t understand much about VAV systems - you don’t even know what VAV means, do you”?

His mouth dropped when I said ever so sweetly, “Well, I am researching the size of the market for variable air volume units and my estimate is that it is £x in the UK market but I am interested in how you think the market might develop … plus some other facts I threw in. He would never have greeted a male visitor with such discourteousness.

My degree is in Psychology and I have used this a great deal in my working life to better understand what makes people and particularly teams on site “tick”. I can understand why when I visited a construction site, I was seen as a novelty but that was because I was the ONLY female on site! I do not have a definitive answer as to why there are not more women in construction. Are women perceived as not physically strong enough, perhaps? Well here’s a thought - electricians need to have a certain amount of “cabling dexterity” and that is surely something women are highly capable of. Are we on the cusp of a change because of an ageing population and more people living alone? Statistics from poles suggest yes, since elderly people and those living alone state they would feel more at ease with a female electrician or plumber. When I have been treated like a bimbo on site, was I to blame? Should I have changed my clothing, hair or demeanour, maybe even been a bit aggressive to better be treated as “one of the men?” I think not … I was simply being myself and men take note … I will continue to do so!

If you are a woman working in construction and would like to share your experiences on our blog then please get in touch.


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