The skills shortage combined with the progress that women have been making within construction has meant that the stars are increasingly in alignment for females looking forge a career within the sector. There’s still a great deal of work to be done, however, and this week we’ll be getting the inside track of what further changes need making as we catch up with two women at different stages of their respective careers. First up is Ewa Ambrosius, who has risen through the ranks to become Associate at Perega.
What have been the biggest barriers you’ve had to overcome in developing your career?
“When I started professionally, I was the only woman on the whole construction site! There were probably about 100-120 people working on the project at the time, all men. For them, seeing a woman on site was unusual and it was easy to see many of them didn’t think I belonged there, so I had to grow a thick skin.
“Often you have to deal with crass, inappropriate jokes and grin and bear it. An unacceptable situation which needs to change. You also have to deal with the feeling that you’re not experienced enough, erroneously based on your gender. I think a lot of this sexism is unconscious but it’s become ingrained in the culture of the industry. This needs to be reversed at all level from board level downwards.
“Over the years I have become more and more resilient. This was, in part, thanks to the help of a very supportive site manager who built up my confidence and convinced me that I was as good as anyone else on the project. He told me to stick to my guns and not to let anyone see fear or uncertainty, put on a brave face and build up trust and authority through actions.”
What are the biggest changes you’d like to see introduced that would help other young women to build a career in construction?
“We need to do more to encourage girls at a younger age to consider construction as a rewarding career path. I think it’s a shame that, currently, only around 30% of the work experience candidates we take on are female.
“At the moment candidates pick us, not the other way around, so it’s somewhat out of our hands as to who applies to undertake their work experience with us. We try our very best to make sure they feel enthused about engineering by the end and that gender is no barrier to any career in this sector.
“Although there are definitely more women within the sector, I do think we need to get to a point where this disparity is resolved so it’s is no longer a talking point, as there should be nothing to talk about. We need to reach a scenario where a career in construction is gender agnostic.”
What advice would you give female school pupils interested in a career in construction?
“Don’t be scared. If you really want to pursue a career in construction, push for it. A mentor who can support you is also important, helping you fight those inevitable battles to get where you want to be.
“If you find something you really enjoy doing, it’s really important to follow that route because you ultimately want to do a job you enjoy as then you’ll be interested, engaged and ultimately excel.
“Finally, and this is more a general comment, plan well and prioritise. Set milestones, but make sure they’re achievable, so it’s not daunting when you have to face large tasks or challenges. When break down the elements, set small deadlines and cross things off the list, it really helps and you’ll find you get things done faster than if you seek to conquer the world in one move. It give you that essential encouragement to keep going.”