With the demand for homes outstripping the number of homes available, now more than ever, construction industry leaders know they must attract as many people as possible into construction careers.
Since the pandemic and ‘Brexit’, the number of migrant labourers has fallen yet the demand for skilled labour has risen exponentially. Combined with the challenge of a development in Cornwall, notoriously expensive to stay in during summer months, and pretty much as far away from anywhere else in the country that you can possibly get, has proven a challenge at North Quay.
So, with these challenges in mind, why are there still so few women in the industry? According to research on the Goconstruct website, there are only approximately 14% of women working in construction. It had been previously hoped that the figure would have risen to nearly 25% by now, but that isn’t the case. Women make up over half of the population, yet construction is still deemed to be ‘a man’s world’. Shouldn’t construction reflect the society we live in? After all women use the spaces created, so shouldn’t they be building them too?
Corinthian group currently has a workforce that is 22% female and although most of these are in the more traditional roles within administration, sales and marketing, things are changing here too…
Meet 22 year old Abbey! Abbey started at North Quay as a receptionist in 2020 but sitting behind a desk very clearly wasn’t for her. It wasn’t long before she was voicing her desire to be out on site and getting stuck in with the construction teams at ground level. We asked her some questions about her newfound role, her training and whether she sees herself as a trail blazer doing what she does.
When did you start working in this industry and what brought you here or drew you to this industry?
In 2020 I started off as a receptionist, but that wasn’t the job that I ideally wanted to do. It was just to get my foot in the door. As a kid I used to go on sites with my Dad who’s been a site manager for years, working for companies such as Midas and Kier. So, I’m following in my Dads footsteps.
What qualifications do you have / need to achieve your aims?
I need to achieve SMSTS (Site Management Safety Training Scheme) and gain relevant site experience which is what I’m doing at the moment. When I have some more site experience, I’ll start a 12-month apprenticeship at Cornwall College.
Have you drawn professional inspiration from other women? Tell us about someone who has inspired you.
Not really, I’m a bit of a tomboy and like doing something different from your ‘typical female’ jobs. I suppose my Dad has been the biggest influence on my choice of career. He’s happy for me to follow him into construction and likes that I’m not put off by it being a male dominated workplace.
Would you like to be a role model/nurture other young women coming into the industry in the future?
Oh yes, definitely. Mainly because it is still a male dominated industry, and we are all equal.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about women in the construction industry?
We’re not all glitz and glamour! More women should consider it as a career, you just need to be comfortable putting yourself out there!
In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of working in a traditionally male dominated environment?
The stereotypes that men have, for example offering to lift things for me. They aren’t being condescending, they’re acting out of some sense of chivalry, I think. But they assume I’m not as physically capable as them, usually I am though! I haven’t experienced any negativity from the guys on site, despite me being young and female, giving them instructions and leading on the job, they genuinely treat me with respect and as an equal.
Why do you get up in the morning and come to work? What motivates you on a daily basis?
Constantly challenging myself to learn new skills and accrue new information.
What does an average day look like?
No day is ever the same. It’s always a challenge, and you don’t know what to expect next. Like today, I have my day planned before I come in at 7.30 in the morning, but things often don’t go to plan, and you have to problem solve on the go. Currently I have a ‘floating’ door to sort out, it doesn’t fit correctly! It can be a stressful job when plans are not quite right and there’s pressure to get buildings handed over on time.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Speaking with the subcontractors and building knowledge of their job, I like to ask them questions because at the end of the day, they’re the ones physically doing the building, I manage the running of that build. I like to know how each role works within the build.
What are your long-term goals?
To be a successful and well-respected Site Manager! I would rather stay in Cornwall though; big cities are too busy for me. I’m Cornish through and through!
What would be your advice to other women thinking about joining the construction industry?
DO IT! Don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone.
However inspiring Abbey’s story is, there is still work to be done surrounding attitudes towards women within the construction industry. A report published by Randstad in 2020 showed that, of the 4,200 women working in construction surveyed, 72% had experienced some form of gender discrimination in the workplace in 2019.
Abbey has the ‘gift of the gab’ and is a strong character who is able to deal with any gender discrimination, but fortunately, so far, she hasn’t had to. This is sadly not the case everywhere. Corinthian whole heartedly support her and her aspirations, but there is no doubt that the industry is very slow to embrace diversity and inclusion when it comes to female construction workers. The sector is definitely making progress and we are proud to be a company who are part of that change, recognising the talent in our midst and working positively to reflect the society in which we live.