Women working in construction is on the increase. 37% of new entrants into the industry that come from higher education are women, but isn’t construction still a man’s world?
There are 320,000 women in construction who beg to differ. The expectation that construction is a male only occupation results in young women not considering job roles in a rapidly growing industry where 83% of workers are proud of their jobs, and over half feel they have an inspiring job to go to every day.
Challenging stereotypes and assumptions is what Women in Construction Week (3-10 March) is all about. By highlighting women in construction, we can showcase the successful careers, innovative contributions and the multitude of positives that comes with a gender balanced industry. While there are still advances to be made, it’s important that small companies to big multi-national companies do their part to confront this issue.
Rachael Edwards, Senior Quantity Surveyor for Carroll Build
Rachael Edwards, Senior Quantity Surveyor for mid-sized construction company Carroll Build has been working in the industry for over 18 years. With a Quantity Surveying degree from John Moores University and as a working mum of two, Rachael has experienced the challenges of the industry, as well as the benefits.
How did you get into construction?
I was already interested in Quantity Surveying as a career, during my AS levels I was put in touch with a rendering company who invited me to work with them for a week. I loved it and found the work interesting. Being paid for it helped! They offered me a job, so I completed my A-levels on a Friday and started work on the following Monday.
How did you develop your career?
I wanted experience in all aspects of construction so after four years at my first job, I joined a local construction company with really diverse portfolio I could get stuck into. This was a bit of a mistake, I knew on day one this wasn’t the place for me. The company was totally male dominated and very chauvinistic, a really unpleasant environment to work in. There was another female Quantity Surveyor there, she said she couldn’t believe I brought a handbag to work, because they had told her she wasn’t allowed one. They would often demand we fetch their lunch for them! I was 22 years old and quite feisty, so I refused from the get go and thankfully that was the end of that. I don’t regret my time there because it taught me one of the most important lessons for a woman in the construction industry, to stand up for yourself.
It also taught me what kind of company I wanted to work for, so I moved to another construction company with a family feel and smaller teams. The work was exciting and varied, from new build to refurbishments, which helped me begin to progress my career, moving from a trainee to a full Quantity Surveyor.
Terry Carroll was one of my sub-contractors who I’d employed to do roofing works. We got along straight away. One day, I asked if he was looking for anyone and he said “Actually, I was going to ask if you wanted a job!”, the timing was perfect. 2019 is my tenth year at Carroll Build and I really enjoy it.
You’ve been with Carroll Build through its rapid growth, what was your role?
There has been so much growth over the years that it’s definitely been challenging at times, but it’s amazing to see what a company as small as we were can become. I was actually the first non-family member! I brought with me loads of best practice and organisation ideas and with Terry’s business knowledge and management drive, it felt like we all grew the company from strength to strength. We’ve gone from a cold, metal container of an office to a multi-million pound office space with multi-million pound projects to work on. It felt very rewarding knowing that my voice and opinions were listened to and respected to help the company flourish.
What’s it like raising your family while working in the construction industry?
It can be difficult, I think being a working mum is difficult anyway no matter where you work. My children are four and one so still very young. When India was born, the office threw me a party so we could all celebrate together which just shows you the sort of company Carroll Build is. Flexibility has been essential to my success. Sometimes you can’t be on site at eight o’clock in the morning, it’s just impossible, but I have the support I need from my colleagues to enjoy a healthy work-life balance.
A couple of weeks ago my little girl found my hard hat in the car. She asked me why I had granddads hat (he’s a builder) and she was bowled over when I told her it was mine and although I’m not a builder, I have one and go on site. She wore the hat all the way to nursery and told her teachers how she couldn’t believe her mummy got to wear one. It’s lovely to think I can inspire my daughter to do whatever type of job she wants, even the jobs that are more stereotypically male.
What do you think about the construction industry as it stands now?
I think the gender balance has improved a lot during my career. When I first started, it was rare to have a female Quantity Surveyor come on site, and I experienced my fair share of sexism. In my University class, I was the only woman. Now it’s different, it’s become the norm to see women on site which is promising. The culture in construction has changed over the years for the better and I think this is reflected in increasing standards and innovation.
What advice would you give to young women thinking about a career in the construction industry?
Construction offers versatility, I can guarantee you’re never going to get a mundane week. There is always a different problem, a different site with different people which keeps things interesting. Construction is also incredibly dynamic and challenging. It’s an opportunity to create for future generations and make a lasting mark in the world. Get some work experience in and see for yourself how rewarding it can be. Working in construction can help you realise more about yourself, you’ll see how strong you really are.
The Carroll Group is part of the Sovini Group which was ranked first as the UK's Best Workplaces for Women - large category. The Sovini Group also bucked the national trend on gender pay. The Group’s latest gender pay analysis (2018) has revealed salaries of female members of staff compare favourably with their male colleagues. The report revealed a 3.49% gap in favour of female employees, compared to the UK average of 9.1% in favour of men. The Sovini Group opted to conduct the analysis as part of a commitment to promote a diverse and inclusive culture.