What's it Like to be a Woman in Construction?
Zoe Chapman is employed as a Senior Consultant working for a multi-disciplinary consultancy in London. She has over 20 years’ experience in the construction business in different areas which has provided her with a wealth of experience and many opportunities.
This is the sixth 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.
I can’t say that I specifically set out to work in construction, in fact the fact that my father was a site manager and worked long hours and always seemed to be under stress should have been a warning sign. However, I showed an interest in environmental issues and health and I started off supporting myself through college as a health worker in the local hospital - which probably makes this story even stranger.
Having finished college I attended an open day at university and was advised that the majority of people entering into the “Environmental” field had to retrain so they had restructured into groups, which included a Housing option. My mother worked for a Social Landlord and my father as mentioned was in the building trade and I thought “well everyone will always need homes” so I chose International Housing. Within the first year it had changed to Housing Management and we were given chartered status. It had been the right decision.
I chose to do a management specialism so that I could apply my skills to any discipline - I wanted to make sure I wasn’t limited to one area. Leaving University I took a job with a subcontractor but it wasn’t long before I branched out and did some independent work for a homeless shelter which led to a job with the local council as a homeless officer. This contract ended and I moved to another Social landlord and I worked with the development team regenerating old houses into flats for people in need. I found this incredibly rewarding - being able to help people and to be involved with the construction process. I took this new knowledge and moved to an engineering company which was predominately male, but they were very supportive and in fact suggested that I either retrain as an engineer or move into project management. Which of course I did.
Project Management is fast paced and brings new challenges every day - new people, problems, solutions and learning opportunities. It is not a career that I chose, it seemed to choose me. I don’t think there is one thing that I can say is the most challenging, but managing time and the work life balance is probably the most important challenge. The most rewarding factor in this role is resolving problems and getting the job done.
Maybe I am fortunate but I cannot pinpoint any particular time where I have felt discriminated against in the industry because I am female. If anything I have always been greeted with respect on site and the teams have been great to work with. If anything I think being a female has helped to diffuse several situations that have become heated within an otherwise all-male environment.
Looking back I do sometimes wonder if I was employed to make the company’s KPI look good - hitting the target for female technical staff. However, I have only had these thoughts when the media raises questions about it being a male dominated industry and whether it is harder for woman etc. Ultimately if you are not good at your job the company won’t employ you.
In fact it wasn’t until I attend a conference recently that flagged issues that had happened to women that questions were raised in my own head regarding events my own employment history. Did such-and-such happen because I was female or was it purely life’s journey? This actually made me feel worse than the incidents themselves had.
Personally I think I have missed out on some promotion opportunities because I had a child, but I chose to stand down for a bit and not attend all the evening events and networking opportunities and that was my choice.
There are a lot more females in the industry than when I first started and it is encouraged. I think more apprenticeships should be offered at college level and there should be much better and more informed advice for school leavers. I didn’t even know there was a career path to be had in project management and construction has so many opportunities and roles to offer.