We recently caught up with Ewa Ambrosius, Associate at Perega about the challenges she’s overcome over the past 20 years as a woman in the construction sector. Here we speak with Nicole Curran, Field Service Technician, UK Connect, to get the perspective of someone who is still in the early stages of her career in the sector.
What have been the biggest barriers you’ve had to overcome in developing your career?
“The assumption that I don’t know as much as the average engineer. For a female in an engineering role, if we’re talking about construction specifically, the automatic expectation is that you don’t quite know what you’re doing.
“There’s an extra, frustrating, element of having to prove yourself just because you’re a woman. There a lack of trust from the outset.
“Of course, once you’ve done the job, as long as you’ve done it successfully, you’re a superhero but primarily there are a lot of imagined, negative assumptions around female engineers which persist. It’s wrong and we need to move beyond such outdated perceptions.
“There are other, institutional barriers which exist, going right back to our education system. The opinion that men fulfil X specific roles and women Y roles, has been allowed to crystallise over decades. In reality there’s no such thing as a gender role when it comes to work, because anyone can do anything if they really want to. Why should there be a category for each gender?
“I’ve thought about why this is such a problem and you can see it’s instilled in us from such an early age through toys, cartoons and films. For example, boys being boisterous builders and soldiers, whereas girls are almost always a princess or something quite feminine. These stereotypes persist and affect the direction people take, especially on their career path in which gender, erroneously, seems a defining factor. It’s ridiculous really.”
“UK Connect are proud to be an inclusive employer with a really diverse team of people, within the company 53% are female. The company is keen to raise awareness to create change within the industry which is why I’m given so many opportunities to share my experiences as a female engineer and It’s really exciting to be given the chance to help make construction a more inclusive and diverse industry.”
What are the biggest changes you’d like to see introduced that would help other young women to build a career in construction?
“I think we need to change the model image of ‘who belongs’ in construction. I mean, I currently walk onto a site and some of the workers stare at me as if I’ve got three heads as I’m often the only woman there. Or, if there is another female there, it’s typically the site manager rather than one of the hands-on trades.
“I think, for starters, that image of what a builder, engineer, plumber or an electrician looks like needs to change. How that’s done, I don’t know. Perhaps there needs to be more advertising and promotional work around how women are perfectly suited to manual roles in these industries.
“Currently the pin-ups for construction, engineering and even telecoms are predominantly male. So I think changing the worker profile image to be more inclusive and gender neutral would be a massive help.
“Especially at the moment, when there’s a big boom in construction, technology and telecoms projects, they’ll need more human resource. I don’t understand why they’re not encouraging more women into these sectors to meet the demand.
“Sadly, I think a culture of male-exclusivity for these types of roles still exists and that needs to change, particularly if we want to secure the longevity of these industries. It’s not the case that anyone’s saying women aren’t allowed do these jobs it’s just that, for centuries, women have never been told they can do them or that they are welcome to do them.
“It’s got to the situation where a young woman, leaving school won’t automatically say, ‘you know what, I’ll be an electrician’ because they’ve never seen one, and they’ve never been told they could be one.
“It feels strange in this day and age that construction remains so male-focused when so much progress has been made in other parts of UK business and industry. There are plenty of women in the UK more than capable of doing these construction roles, often better than their male counterparts.
What advice would you give female school pupils interested in a career in construction?
“Be open-minded and very thick skinned. Be aware that, and it’s unacceptable mind you, when you walk onto a construction site you’ll get a load of second glances from a number of the men no doubt thinking, ‘hang on, what’s she doing here?’. You need to be tough and look beyond it otherwise it can really knock your confidence.
“There will also be occasions where, if you’re leaving school and you’ve got an apprenticeship or you go to college to study construction, you may well be the only girl in that class. Or you might be the only female in the department in your company. You might feel slightly alienated in that sense. So, you’ve got to be strong and able to put up with potential feelings of isolation.
“Eventually you’ll find that it’s not necessarily uncomfortable, especially when you’ve been in the job for a few years. I don’t even think about it now, although it often gets pointed out that I’m the only female present on a job. Personally, I haven’t noticed because it’s not something which I feel is at all relevant, it’s about how well I do the job.
“I do think it’s sad that I’m still part of a minority group within the industry, rather than blending in, it still looks as though you’re in the wrong place. However if construction or telecoms is something a young female really wants to do, they shouldn’t be put off that they will be one of a small number within their firm. I say, take it as a positive and make yourself stand out even more. If you’re good, it will work in your favour to stand out in that way.”
About UK Connect: founded in 2013, UK Connect is the nation’s leading connectivity solutions provider, solely dedicated to the construction industry. The company provides broadband and wireless solutions across sites of any size, whatever the location. In 2020 it also launched a new health and safety management software platform, One.site, offering remote induction and non-biometric sign-in for sites.