LABC Warranty's Sarah Dee-Shapland on women in the construction industry

This article, in which LABC Warranty Technical Director Sarah Dee-Shapland talks about her time in the construction sector, also appears on the Women in Social Housing Network blog here.

Women in construction: we’ve come a long way

Women in construction - we've come a long way

Picture the scene: I am a trainee Building Control officer fresh out of college, a man-size hi-viz jacket down to my knees, white wellies on a muddy building site, asking if there is another toilet because the ladies’ is being used for storage.

There was little in the way of protective clothing for women back in 1990 – not that long ago, really – and that didn’t help my fight to prove my knowledge and skills. I managed to juggle work and family life by moving companies and working for a female manager who understood how difficult it was. Part-time work effectively excluded me from promotion.

Things have come a long way for women in construction. In my most recent role with LABC Warranty,  I have always had the same opportunities as my male colleagues, and have earned a number of promotions to my current role as Technical Director. I am proud to see other women progress in their roles, too. Construction sites even have suitable clothes and boots, and toilets for women. Now that’s progress!

There has been a lot of campaigning and awareness around females in construction, and that’s brought many improvements. But there are still a few pieces of the jigsaw missing, I feel.

The perception of housing and construction being about macho builders seems tougher to shake off in education’s early years, and there is still work to do on supporting women to balance their career with bringing up children. The industry needs to show how it can provide our emerging workforce with flexible and remote working options, which I feel is high on the job criteria for younger job seekers today.

There is a danger, too, that too much focus on the subject can push back against women in construction. It risks fostering a perception that women are offered roles simply to show that companies provide equal opportunity, that we’re there to “make up the numbers.”

Women want acceptance that they can perform their roles just as well as men, and that they’re not part of a boardroom’s gender balance strategy. That thinking can be harmful, and risks undoing much of the good work.

I have always enjoyed working in the construction industry and the challenges I have faced. I know I have had to work harder than some to prove my worth, but who doesn’t like a challenge? Yet I am pleased that women starting out today in the sector face far fewer barriers than I did.

My advice to women looking to work in this rewarding industry is simple: believe in your own ability. If you believe in yourself, your colleagues will too. It’s this acceptance, this teamwork, that will help make your workplace a happy place to be.

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Please Note: Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication. Any written guidance provided does not replace the reader’s professional judgement and any construction project should comply with the relevant Building Regulations or applicable technical standards. However, for the most up to date LABC Warranty technical guidance please refer to your Risk Management Surveyor and the latest version of the LABC Warranty Technical Manual.

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