International Women’s Day 2021 #ChooseToChallenge

Marked annually on 8th March, International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness for equality, lobbying for accelerated gender parity.

According to Go Construction, women make up around 14% of construction industry professionals. At Novum Structures, we fully support all our staff in their career ambitions regardless of gender. We’re proud that over 30% of our European team is made up of women but know we have a long way to go. We’re committed to building an inclusive workplace for women and men to thrive, equally.

With women remaining under-represented within the construction industry, we wanted to speak to four individuals within our U.K. team about their experience at work in the hopes to raise awareness and diminish the misconceptions ‘surrounding gender-specific roles.’

Why do you think still so few women are entering the construction industry?

There are so many factors influencing women’s affinity for, attitude towards and interest in engineering. The societal and psychological stereotypes that link males to engineering, and exclude females, start taking effect from a very young age. Young girls that may have an affinity for engineering may not be exposed to the same toys, games and experiences as children which boys do. I think this puts girls at a notable disadvantage having missed out during the crucial developmental phases. Through schooling, parents, teachers, and society suggest career paths which they have seen women make a success of. If there are no or few successful female engineers to look to, it is difficult to imagine yourself or your little girl as an engineer. Those women that do recognise their abilities and a passion for engineering study very successfully but at the moment a large proportion of women who do enter the industry leave to work in a different sector after a few years.’ – Ashleigh-Rose Wiggett, CAD Technician, Novum Structures

Tell us a bit about your experience as a woman training to work in construction

‘When I attended the interview for a place on the ONC course many moons ago now, the man who interviewed me said I was given a place as the company were paying for it, but that ‘as a woman, he didn’t expect me to pass.’ It made me even more determined to do just that.
‘Out of the 20 class members for my Honours Degree, I was the only female. I think it can be quite daunting for a woman to walk into that situation with confidence.  We really need to shake off the notion that gender determines competence and start looking at who is capable based on their mindset, experience, and qualifications.’
 Lisa Hamling, Maintenance Manager, Novum Facilities Management

Do you think more could be done to encourage women to pursue a career in construction?

Construction is still a predominantly male-dominated world; I think looking at the pay divide between men and women could encourage more women to consider a career in construction. I’m really lucky because I have such lovely colleagues, and everyone is always prepared to help one another so it feels very inclusive in that respect.’ Isabella Delmonte, Pre-construction Detailer, Novum Structures

Is enough being done to promote careers for women within engineering? How do you think the construction industry could be more inclusive of women moving forward?

‘Even if we are successful in ‘promoting’ an engineering career for women perhaps at school or university level, this is not sustainable if we are unable to retain these women. I think more emphasis needs to be put on supporting women in creating long and fulfilling careers in engineering and construction. There are assumptions in this male-dominated space that prevent women from being promoted to leadership positions and in order to experience the growth they seek; they change their career path. The idea that women are either incapable of or are unwilling to lead or manage a group of men needs to be let go. The assumption that men in construction would not respect a woman in charge is also something that needs to be challenged if we want a change. Women do not want to be held back by their career choice but rather validated. This validation can also come from simple things like providing PPE in women’s sizes. Small changes can do a lot to prevent women from feeling like imposters in their careers.’ Ashleigh-Rose Wiggett, CAD Technician, Novum Structures

In your role as the Maintenance Manager of Novum Facilities Management, what do you think is the biggest challenge you face at work?

Many people wrongly assume I am undertaking an administrative role. On more than one occasion clients have been shocked to be passed over to me when asking for the Maintenance Manager, expecting instead to be put through to a man. I have had staff bypass my desk to ask a male member of my team a question, only to be referred back to me. It has happened increasingly less over the past few years, but I think historic stereotypes play their part and we need to advocate change.’ –  Lisa Hamling, Maintenance Manager, Novum Facilities Management

What advice would you give to women looking to work in the construction industry?

I am a project engineer and I do think it can be hard to work in a male-dominated field sometimes. I believe that women are just as capable and should be treated as thus. To anyone considering working in construction, my advice would be to just do it and don’t doubt yourself– we need to stand our ground! – Nan Li, Project Engineer, Novum Structures

With the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day being ‘Choose to Challenge’ we hope that this article has given you pause for thought. After speaking with these women, it’s clear that each one of them has faced a challenge in their daily work lives simply based on their gender. Ashleigh-Rose Wiggett aptly summarises that ‘The engineering profession cannot be as innovative, skilful, progressive, and adaptable as it needs to be to meet the needs of a rapidly developing and changing world if half of the population is excluded from the team.’

Read more about International Women’s Day 2021 here and #ChooseToChallenge.