There was a time when women would associate construction sites with wolf whistles rather than careers; however, perceptions are slowly being rebuilt.
Just 12% of the UK’s housebuilding workforce is female, with the majority in secretarial or administration jobs and less than 4% having a skilled trade role, according to a recent report from the NHBC. With the skills gap growing ever wider, the nation simply can’t afford to wall off half the talent pool.
Lauren Atkins, MD of The Malins Group, whose development portfolio includes residential developments in Belgravia, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Marylebone and Westminster, believes creative women developers offer a different approach which creates stand-out and delivers excellent results.
“The real opportunity is to be known to perform, where others may not,” she said. “I pride myself on this and I believe that inherently female traits of detail, caution and tenacity, make female property developers a solid bet. Likewise, the product I create is built with absolute passion for design and finish, and is our ultimate opportunity to set us apart from our competition.
“This is where I believe creative women developers have an edge, integrating interior design into the construction cycle creates an end product that appears to be more thoughtful, more seamless and more saleable. Indeed, constructing with the final finishes in mind saves cost and speeds up the build process.
Women still only represent 11% of construction professionals and 1% of manual trades but if this diversity increases, the sector can only become more interesting; especially as inherently female traits are now so important. “I have never let myself be defined as a woman, when I walk on site I am a leader, I provide vision and make decisions; so I am respected because of that,” said Atkins. “We need more women developers inspiring other women to join the industry because of the value women can bring and not just simply because they are women.”
Many women find themselves stumbling into housebuilding from more traditional careers, and discovering the incredible opportunities that the industry offers.
Chief Executive of East Thames, Yvonne Arrowsmith, went from a career in nursing to working in the housing industry. “I was working in healthcare and was involved in the closure of long-stay hospitals for people with severe physical disabilities, mental health and learning disability,” she said. “The patients were being moved to properties in the community, provided by Housing Associations. It seemed almost natural at that point for me to follow the people and work for a Housing Association.
“I have seen more women taking senior roles during my time in housing, which is obviously positive, so the gender balance is getting better but is still not quite there yet. On the G15, the 15 largest housing associations in London there are only four female chief executive, so we have a way to go. I think it is changing and there is real opportunity for women coming through.
“The younger generation of women appear to have no hang-ups about gender, they have been raised to believe they can do anything. I do think the schools need to move away from traditional gender roles more. Some schools and individual teachers are good at this and others aren’t.
“We need as many people as we can get coming through into housing and construction – we have a huge housing challenge on our hands, so encouraging more women to see the advantages of such a rewarding career would be really helpful.”
Increasingly, millennials are shrugging off the stereotypes and choosing housebuilding as a career from a young age.
Millwood Designer Homes recently promoted its first female site manager, 27-year-old Charlotte Cox. “My dad has always worked in construction, so growing up I saw him working with the local community on lots of different projects,” Cox said. “While studying construction management at university, I was one of three ladies on my course. There were a lot more on the architecture and design and art courses, but that side never particularly appealed to me.
“People are often surprised about my chosen career and shocked when they walk in the office to meet me, but generally they are just as pleased as they would be if a man was working on the project.
“I definitely think jobs in construction should be introduced more to younger girls as a potential career option. Unfortunately, I did nothing at school more than basic engineering in physics lessons. The house-building industry does not seem to be discussed in education for girls, but for those who work and think logically like me, it is ideal.”
Samantha Simmonds, 26, is an assistant quantity surveyor who joined Countryside just over three years ago. “I would say the industry is constantly changing for the better and has already improved considerably,” she said. “There are a lot more women in different roles within Countryside, including site managers, which is great.”
Recently promoted Development Manager, Emma Hewitt (29) working at the Kings Park development in Harold Wood, has also been with Countryside for just over three years. “When I first started at Countryside, I worked predominantly with male colleagues,” However, in my current department, there are now more women than men which is very unusual.
“I have definitely seen more ladies getting involved, especially within Countryside’s graduate scheme. None the less, I don’t think working within the construction industry is promoted as much as it could be or enough emphasis on the different roles available within the house-building sector. It is a great career option, with the potential of countless opportunities and I believe more should be done to promote working within the industry to both school and university leavers.”