Women in Construction Week takes place during the first full week in March every year and is now become a fantastic international initiative. Started by the NAWIC in the early 50’s, it continues to allow companies to highlight all the great initiatives and work of women within the industry.
Likewise, it is a time that brings to the fore the opportunities that are available to women in construction. Women in Construction Week traces the history of women in construction, their challenges, and the ways they’ve been able to overcome them.
Following Optimum Group’s Women in Construction 2021 activity and finding out more about our incredible female workforce, this year we have interviewed two of the most inspirational and brilliant young women in the business. Operating out of our Welsh office, Alisha Birkett (Assistant Quantity Surveyor) & Luschia Evans (Trainee Quantity Surveyor) are not only brilliant and excelling in their roles but have taken the time to answer some questions which not only give insight to these roles within a male dominant industry but also breaks down barriers for aspiring women to enter the industry.
Check out what they had to say…
- What do you feel is the biggest challenge of being a woman working within construction?
Alisha: One of the main challenges I often face is the lack of facilities for women vs men on construction sites, while men will usually have a vast range of shower rooms, toilets and changing rooms. Usually, the women’s equivalent is either non-existent or not cared for in the same way.
Luschia: For me, the biggest challenge was first joining as it can feel daunting being a young woman going into an Industry that you think it mostly for men. As there are typically fewer women on-site than men, similarly to Alisha mentioned, the women’s facilities can also seem to be less varied or not taken care of the same as the facilities for men.
- Do you feel that the industry is opening more to women?
Alisha: Definitely! Even since starting just under 4 years ago, I can already see many things improving.
Luschia: I think that the industry is definitely opening to more women and more women are realising that careers in construction are available to them.
- How can the industry be more inclusive for women?
Alisha: I think it begins right from when they are still in school. There isn’t a lot of advertisement for construction, and it is even less for construction aimed at women. A role model who represents women is also very important and can help girls see that it is possible to work in construction.
Luschia: It can be more encouraged to young women and girls from a young age that there are plenty of job opportunities for them within the construction industry and that it is definitely a route that girls, not only boys can go down.
- Has there been any change from first starting in construction?
Alisha: It’s much more inclusive than when I started, I see a lot more women on site and in the office than I did a few years ago.
Luschia: I haven’t been working within the industry for that long to see much of a change but I do think that the idea of more women in construction is becoming more encouraged and its great to see.
- What can be done to combat gender discrimination within the industry?
Alisha: Seeing women leaders/directors in construction is a great way to show equality in the workplace. We are lucky to have 4/7 of our directors as women, and it was definitely one of the things that made me so eager to work here. It would be nice to see more lower-level female managers though!
Luschia: I think just more recognition of women in higher positions to show that there are powerful women in important roles would go a long way and give young women examples that they can strive towards.
- What has been the most surprising part of being a woman working in construction?
Alisha: I definitely came into this job expecting to be a little more pushed aside than someone older or male, but that’s been far from what has happened! I’ve been very lucky to have all the opportunities I’ve had with Optimum, and I would not be half the QS I am without having the space and freedom to grow as I have.
Luschia: I think I was surprised by how helpful and welcoming everyone can be and how no one has made me feel uncomfortable or pushed aside.
- Why did you choose construction? What led you to construction?
Alisha: I always enjoyed maths in school and I initially was going down the path of accountancy, but after helping my dad with things like Excel and Bluebeam during school breaks and when I left school I was introduced to Quantity Surveying which is far more interesting than Accounting!
Luschia: My Dad has always worked within construction, and he is the one who introduced me to it. He told me of a position he knew of which was an excellent job opportunity for me which I probably never would have realised could be a career for myself.
- What qualifications are available for women to build a career in construction and what have you done?
Alisha: There are so many construction-related courses that can be taken to build a career in this industry, most (if not all) qualifications are now available to women too which is obviously a plus. I have just completed a 2 year HNC in Surveying and was delighted to graduate last year with a Distinction!
Luschia: There are plenty of different qualifications available for women within many sectors of construction, I am currently completing a construction and built environment HNC.
- Is there anything else you’d like to do within the construction industry, and do you have any dreams or goals within your role?
Alisha: I thoroughly enjoy the line of work I’m currently in, and I think my final goal in this industry is to be a Finance Director or similar
Luschia: I am enjoying training as a QS so I would like to carry on to become a qualified quantity surveyor.
- What advice could be given to a young woman entering the construction industry?
Alisha: Confidence definitely matters, it’s very daunting being the only woman in a group of men (especially when they are much older than you) but being able to make a conversation will go a long way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either, and don’t be afraid to be wrong!
Luschia: I would say don’t be put off that it is considered a male-dominated industry, the more young women that enter the industry means that it will become more evened out. Just be sure of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Out of 35 people in Alisha’s university class, only 5 were women, while Luschia is the only woman in her class of 15. Though the improvements are gradual, as a business, we are doing everything we can to support these fantastic women in the industry. This annual awareness week is observed to appreciate the women who have taken the bold step to enter the construction industry, and also to encourage those willing to make similar commitments.
We will continue to work with our clients to improve the atmosphere, facilities and support offered to women on sites as well as educational schemes, such as Apprenticeships to ensure that women can start & build a career from multiple entry points.