It’s getting better, but there’s still a way to go for women in construction

Kate Morement is head of risk and compliance at Assent

I took a very non-traditional route into the world of construction. Having begun my working life as a shelf-stacker with a supermarket chain and rising through the management ranks before I realised that retail wasn’t for me, I took a temporary job with a housebuilder’s health and safety team. It gave me a taste of the industry, so when the opportunity to turn it into a permanent role arose, I grabbed it.

“As the years passed, I gradually found my voice was heard and I was able to establish my authority and leadership”

It was in this role that I was teamed with a wonderful female mentor with whom I still keep in touch today. She was the technical director of an asbestos health and safety consultancy and she was the female role model that I needed when I was 18 years old. If it wasn’t for her, I would not be doing what I’m doing today.

She told me that there would be challenges as a woman working in the industry – and she was correct. There weren’t many women in asbestos or construction 20 years ago, so when I visited sites, I unfortunately experienced some inappropriate comments and reactions. I also didn’t feel like my voice or opinions were given serious consideration in meetings.

With few women in senior roles in construction, these challenges continued as I climbed the ladder. I’ll never forget being the only woman in a meeting with 15 men and it being a real challenge to be listened to in this and other similar situations.

I’m from a family of strong women and I relished the challenge to make a change. As the years passed, I gradually found my voice was heard and I was able to establish my authority and leadership.

I’m pleased to say that in recent years there have been many positive changes and there are now more women in senior positions. It’s quite a different landscape to when I started my career; there are many initiatives in place for friendly sites and positivity now pervades. A lot of the comments I heard when I started would now not be tolerated.

PPE and portable toilet issues

There is, however, still much more that can be done for women to achieve equity in construction.

One of my bugbears is that PPE – which is nothing short of an absolute necessity in the industry – is rarely made with women in mind. I was astounded to be told that one of the major PPE suppliers to the industry did not stock sizes for women.

We’re in a world where there is equality but it is not always demonstrated in all sectors. But we need to ensure a duty of care for everyone.

It’s the same with portable toilets. Generally, there is just one facility for everyone to use without any consideration for who is on site. Although we want more women in the industry, we’re not yet changing the industry standards or addressing welfare requirements that come under the Health and Safety Act.

Everyone’s opinion matters

I am a massive advocate of women in construction and want to give them the opportunity to progress. Only yesterday, I promoted my senior quality coordinator to the position of head of quality assurance after she recently demonstrated her extensive knowledge at a senior level, as she supported the business in addressing the changes brought about by the new Building Safety Regulator regime. It feels like she’s the next equivalent of me in the industry. If I can help women on their journey, I will.

If I could give just one piece of advice to women who are in or who would like to work in construction, it would be for them to take the opportunity that exists for women to have their voice heard and progress. I can confidently say that all voices are listened to and respected at my company and more widely in the industry. I would urge women to pursue the many opportunities currently available at this time of exciting change in the construction industry.

Information on this year’s Inspiring Women in Construction & Engineering Conference & Awards – hosted by Construction News and sister titles New Civil Engineer and Ground Engineering – can be found here

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