Embracing Equality

Although we are marking National Women in Construction Week because it’s important to raise awareness of the fantastic work women carry out in the sector, we do so against the backdrop of continued under-representation and gender disparity. According to the Office for National Statistics women account for just 14% of the UK construction specific workforce, despite women comprising half the UK population. What’s going on?

We’ve been chatting to a selection of the Ian Williams’ female team to get their views.

Amy Boothman
Development Manager and Sales & Marketing Director from 1st April

Amy joined Ian Williams in 2010 following 15 years’ experience working for large project management, high-tech manufacturing and construction businesses. Her role encompasses managing all aspects of development, including bid management, new business and marketing, and thanks to a deep understanding of the sector, Amy has successfully led the acquisition of major accounts in the UK’s largest private and public sector. She is also a published author of erosh’s Sensitive Contractor Guide, and a member of the NHMF judging committee, We asked Amy what she feels are the main barriers to gender equality.

Read More from Amy

Amy comments: “Having worked in both the construction and maintenance sector for over 25 years, I have seen the industry change somewhat and barriers lower – but not as fast as I would like. When I first joined, the biggest barrier was culture and stereotypes and having visited thousands of sites and workplaces over the years, it was common to be the only woman or see women only represented in certain roles.  But there is a feeling now in the marketplace that the tide is very slowly turning – especially through support by organisations like WISH (Women In Social Housing) – still, at the majority of events you don’t see equal representation.  

“Another barrier is that women outside of our sector don’t know what it’s all about and have pre-conceived ideas, which is our responsibility to change. Housing maintenance requires first class communication, management and organisational skills which women have too.  Everyone knows that diverse teams are better performing and more innovative, so it’s time for women to lead and importantly, be seen to lead to encourage others into the industry.

To make the sector more attractive and accessible, we have to go back to the beginning and start from recruitment, ensuring we use accessible adverts, highlighting different benefits and change the language to be more appealing. Flexibility for work/life balance, health & wellbeing, career progression are all key motivators. High visibility of female peers and colleagues then has to follow through the interview and induction processes, and finally the work environment has to be filled with female role models and mentors. Creating a virtuous circle is the only way to break the bias.

“Sustainability is also now a key deciding factor in employment and we are in the privileged position as a sector, to offer attractive careers for younger people, including women, the generation with a passion and hunger for decarbonisation. Data and commercial management, procurement, technology, retrofit, communications etc are skills sought after as much as plumbers, painters and electricians. One of my particular interests is that we shouldn’t solely focus on the young (apprentices/trainees coming into the industry). There is an untapped pool of potential female candidates returning to work after childcare, wishing for a career change and older women, all of whom have the right behaviours and values and can be upskilled. Like Jayne, I am excited and optimistic that we can instigate and lead change, something that we can really spearhead in our new roles on the leadership team.

“Finally, we need to get the men on board so that they champion women in the industry, just as women champion women and men. Putting too much focus on one gender or another will not help break the bias. Equality is not something that happens overnight, but I feel we’re certainly heading in the right direction.”

Jayne Cox
Head of Finance, and Finance Director from April 1st

Following graduation in Politics and Sociology, Jayne trained to be a qualified accountant and joined Ian Williams in 2008 as Financial Controller. In 2014, she chose to move into an operational role and spent five years as a General Manager and then Operations’ Director for Response Maintenance within our business. This experience gave her real insight into the performance and activities that lie beneath the financial performance. Returning to a central role in 2020, Jayne become our Head of Finance, also looking after IT and digital transformation.

Read More from Jayne

Jayne comments “It’s our responsibility as women already within the sector, to share the message that women’s skillsets are relevant to our markets. We will achieve this through articles like these, showing how women at all levels add to the success of the organisation as a whole.  At Ian Williams, where we genuinely believe in the benefits diversity brings, we also do a lot of practical things to support women to work, such as flexible hours, job sharing, part time working

Government initiatives highlighting the inequality that still exists for women in the workplace, such as Gender Pay Gap reporting, are a good place to start, but I believe that we can do better than our industry average and I’m excited to work with our new People Director and Leadership Team to put in place innovative ideas to make Ian Williams a leader when it comes to equality.

Debra Maclean
General Manager

Debra joined Ian Williams following a successful career in international retail operations working for big brands like IKEA and TK Maxx in roles such as Customer Contact Director, Commercial Manager, and Head of European Risk Management. Her experience in the high volume, low value transactional markets of B2C, taught Debra how crucial genuinely great customer service is, why as a business, you have to do what you say you will, and how service delivery is about delivering what people want and need, not what you think they want. All of these insights and skills were instantly transferable to our B2B2C supply chain and we were delighted when Debra joined us as General Manager in 2021.

Read More from Debra

Debra comments: “The challenge of gender diversity is one that businesses, whether in retail, commercial, financial, construction or housing, have been grappling with for a long time. As I’ve proven, skillsets can be transferable into new disciplines and markets, but the environment can be very different. I have to say, it was a ‘diversity’ wake-up call when I moved from senior management roles in retail to join this sector. My previous roles saw me travel around the world for meetings, which were usually pretty evenly balanced between men and women. Joining the housing maintenance and repairs sector, it’s really different – as an example, I recently returned from some training where I was the only woman in the room.  

“I am a firm believer in Henry Ford’s adage: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got”. It’s simple to say that if we don’t change what we do, nothing will change, but it’s far harder to implement. I think one of the major problems in attracting skilled tradeswomen, for example, to my operational team, is that there aren’t many out there in the first place. So to me, that says we need go back to the beginning to schools and colleges. The Ian Williams Academy does a fantastic job at promoting ‘on the tools jobs’ and it’s initiatives like the Academy that will encourage more women to join us.

“We need to dissect how we market ourselves as a sector by digging deep and asking those tough questions. Do women still generally associate construction with driving diggers, lifting bricks, manoeuvring forklift trucks, dirty dangerous workplaces? If so, this is an obvious first barrier to break down. We need to show that the one thing men biologically have over women, physicality and strength, is only a tiny proportion of what we do operationally. We need to recruit outside of our sectors, be brave and embrace the fact that others can bring something to our sector – whether male or female. Women and girls can be practical – why shouldn’t they train to paint or rewire a house? Nothing in our gender precludes us from doing this. Employers also have to face up their own potential prejudices,  when for example getting a CV with a female name at the top. Look beyond that and look at the trainable and transferable skills.

“Changing stereotypical thinking is one of the hardest things to do and it will only happen if illustrate and prove to women what we’re doing and how we’re succeeding so that our world becomes less alien and more attractive. I am confident this will happen with small changes, which will build to become step changes that we look back at and celebrate.”

Lucy Edwards
Quantity Surveyor

Lucy Edwards, who is undertaking a Higher Level 4 in Construction Quantity Surveying Technician with us and City College Plymouth, recently won the prestigious Building Plymouth Construction Technical Apprentice of the Year Award 2023.

Read More from Lucy

Lucy comments: “It was a privilege to have been nominated and I was so proud to have received the award. I am looking forward to using this platform to be an ambassador for apprenticeships and also to promote diversity for the industry as a whole.

“My apprenticeship journey in the construction industry started in January 2022 having previously worked in hospitality. It’s a career move that paid off for me. From the start, it was evident that the job required someone like me who embraces a challenge and I hit the ground running, completing two high profile projects, one for Cornwall Rural Housing, and a complex project for an external property management company.”

Proving that she had the ability and positive attitude, Lucy worked on a contract with Plymouth Community Homes contract, an extremely high profile and high value contract with Ian Williams. This level of responsibility is unusual for trainees, but Lucy proved that she has what it takes to deliver. Within six months of working on the Plymouth Community Homes project, Lucy had transformed things. As well as excelling in her onsite work, Lucy has been equally as committed to her classroom studies, achieving 100% attendance. She has shown herself to be a true leader in group activities.

Katie White
Painter and Decorator

After 10 years in the beauty industry, the 2020 lockdown gave Katie the opportunity to reflect on her career. She had always been interested in painting and decorating, and decided to move into the construction sector, joining Ian Williams in September 2020 as a painting and decorating apprentice. Since then, Katie’s confidence has grown, along with her knowledge and skill as a painter and decorator to become a valuable, integral part of the delivery team and she has won several industry awards along the way.

Read More from Katie

Katie comments: “Even though decorating companies are predominantly male, this has never challenged me and I think me joining the team has brought diversity in a very positive way with very constructive impact. I feel I have successfully developed working relationships with a largely male-dominated site teams and embraced the cultural shift from working in a typically female-led environment. Understandably, Ian Williams is looking to recruit more female talent and I am keen to be a figurehead for this, being a positive role model for other female colleagues.

Wayne Cockley, Ian Williams Foreperson and Katie’s mentor adds “Katie’s impact has been very positive; she can be relied on to carry out her work independently and as part of a team. Katie has worked on an eclectic range of contracts across multiple sectors – social housing, private education, and residential care environments – always delivering a high-level of service to clients and customers. She has dealt with challenging situations on site with diplomacy, empathy, and great customer care skills, enabling her to liaise sensitively with residents

“Her skills as a decorator continue to grow and I have every confidence in her. She is always willing to go above and beyond for her colleagues and Ian Williams. Katie’s delivery is always 100% and she is a great ambassador for Ian Williams and for women.”

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