Let’s be completely honest; attracting women to the construction industry has been a tough nut to crack. Over the past twenty years, women in the industry have bounced around the 13pc mark. We have some fantastic talent ourselves, but we cannot ignore the fact; there aren’t enough women in construction.
So how can we fix this? It’s a question we contemplate for the 25th anniversary of Women in Construction Week. With the ‘Many paths, One mission’ theme taken into full consideration, we share a snippet of the life of one of our own. Jessica Percy is a Mechanical Construction Manager at Michael J Lonsdale. Her drive and passion for the job, and our dedication to nurturing talent ensured Jess upskilled within the business, allowing her to step up from a supervisor role. The Q&A below takes you through her thoughts and experiences on being a woman in the industry.
This year’s Women in Construction Week theme is ‘Many paths, One mission’. The theme celebrates the different women who have taken toward the same goal: strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the construction industry.
So just to be clear; are you the only woman you know that does what you do?
I am the only female I know, mechanically who works in my position. Of all the trade contractors I have worked for, I have never met another me – but surely there must be others?!
Why do you think that is?
Opportunities are available. It falls to encouraging younger girls at school & college, letting them know of the variety of roles that meet any skill set. Girls are coming through on the tools a lot more now, but a lot of women entering the industry without a history or trade will fill an office-based job or go straight to management. There is still a huge gap between women joining the trade work.
It’s quite a commitment to persevere though, and doing that whilst being a mum is very challenging. My drive allowed me to take the opportunities that came my way and make them work.
You're almost trying to run two calendars at the same time?
I’m alright now my son is 16. He can handle himself a lot more. But when I first started in this industry, it was tough. There were school plays, parent meetings and all the things that you are required to go to school for. My son has extra needs as well so we had even more meetings with professionals to work around. Thank god for teams meetings when they became the norm this made me being in two places possible. Trying to balance in an environment like this [construction] feels more like 3/4 calendars. Although the sense of achievement you get when you walk through the home door is unmatched.
The problem is some people in the industry won’t understand it because they cannot relate. Support is here though; so many people will cheer you on and help build your career.
But why would some people not understand that?
It’s still quite an old-school and traditional culture at times. You still get families where men go to work, and the woman handles the home. So because the roles are so split, there’s sometimes limited empathy. Again, I have been supported by my managers whilst at MJL, making a massive difference. At times it is difficult trying not to stand out due to my commitments. I can often feel like having to choose between home and work commitments – but my son is always paramount.
Females coming through to this industry need to have the confidence to stand their ground. It is a very rewarding industry, working with great people along the way.
And what brings you back the next morning?
I love my job. I was made to work in this industry. And when people tell me I can’t do something, I want to go out and prove them wrong. For every bad day, there are about 1000 good days. Yes, it is tough at times, but it’s very rewarding if you care.
Do you think we need to make opportunities truly level for everyone to see more women in varied roles in construction? Gender doesn’t matter. It’s whether you have the skill set to succeed in a role.
And the industry needs to be accepting. Yes, a lot of girls won’t have been on the tools for 10 to 15 years like a lot of people on-site, but they will have managerial, organisational and people skills, which are those missing elements I find in most jobs I work on. You will be amazed at how much variance a woman can bring a team. When you accept everyone for who they are and work together, it creates a blend of skills to cover every area. It’s bringing a different angle of thought to the table. I feel that I have been extremely lucky, especially at MJL, and have worked with some incredible people from who I have learnt a wealth of knowledge from their experience, and I find myself forever growing because of this.
The industry can also look at the talent already present. For example, We bring on a lot of female document controllers. Some will absolutely love what they do and naturally learn about the industry, especially if they are based on-site. If we notice that interest and invest in them we can allow them to grow into construction on a unique path. Anything is possible.
It reminds me of something quite popular on LinkedIn at the moment, where a load of CEOs have stated that you can teach pretty much any job, but you can’t teach drive and passion. If someone has that, they are the people you want in your team.
Being a female is a positive thing. You can find yourself working harder, but when you do something right, you stand out. It can work the other way too, but if you really want it, you’ll get it. When I went to college [to complete my HNC] I was the only female plumber out of 60. I was 24 and just had a baby, this was the same when I studied for my HNC in building services, so people saw me as a joke. “What is she going to do” or “why is she here”. But I persevered and worked harder than anyone on that course, ending up with a student of the year award. I was studying whilst dealing with a very young child, which made that so much harder. But the doubt from everyone else drove me to prove them wrong.
You were saying it was quite hard handling everything at the same time, especially with helicopter parenting. How did you manage everything at the same time?
Honestly, I have no idea. I do believe that if you find something you enjoy and can put your skill set to whilst getting paid makes all the difference. The industry can be financially rewarding too. I have worked hard to get where I am and will continue to chase new challenges.
My next chapter began two weeks ago as I got approved for my first-ever mortgage. I have built a life where I am completely self-sufficient and emotionally, physically and financially independent. I want to show women that you can do it all. That there is a way to balance, and there is support to help you if needed. It isn’t always as daunting once you walk onto the site you normally just become one of the lads.
I look back and I honestly could not tell you how I could do it. Who knows how I did it with everything else? I couldn’t tell you exactly, but it boils down to me being everything that my son has. I have to succeed; I cannot fail. It just had to work. Watching the next generation step up fuels my ambition even more, bringing women into the industry to do the best job.
Jess’ honest approach is incredibly refreshing and gives food for thought to everyone in construction. As a business, we constantly ensure people of all backgrounds and genders have the equal opportunity to not just get a job, but grow a career. Saying this, we welcome all companies within the industry to get in touch and explore how we can make female presence higher than it’s been in the past twenty years.
If you would like to get in touch regarding building opportunities for women in construction, please fill out the form below.