International Women’s Day

Why Women Need To Play A More Prominent Role In The Construction Industry

Recent research shows that only 14% of people working in the UK construction industry are female. Of those, the vast majority work in administrative and office-based roles, with a very small number actually working on construction sites or in trade roles.

As we get ready to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023 and Women in Construction Week, we caught up with Mandy Messenger, Managing Director of Advanté, to find out what it’s like heading up a company working primarily in the construction sector.

How did you first get into construction, Mandy?

I joined the business in 1991, at a time when there were hardly any women working in construction – far fewer than today even. I’m originally from the Netherlands, and came to the UK on a work placement as part of my course. Initially, I wasn’t too sure about being placed in a construction firm in Essex. It was a far cry from some of the more glamorous, London-based roles in PR and advertising, that my friends had managed to land! But I soon found my feet and quickly grew to love working in construction.

Although I’ve spent a great deal of time working with construction clients over the years, initially my roles focused more on sales and marketing, and the client operations side of things, before I took on the role of MD in 2020.

 

What’s your experience been like, as a woman working in this sector?

There’s no doubt that construction is an extremely male-dominated sector – although that is starting to change. However, I can honestly say I have only been challenged about my knowledge and credentials once, which was in my very first role as Marketing Manager for a construction company.

To be fair, once I explained that I would only need to know what my company’s competencies were and what they could build, as I would not be building the project myself, the gentleman actually apologised and said he had never considered it like that before.

In truth, I’ve found that my gender has often put me at an advantage. Women tend to be very good at forging relationships and creating connections with clients and colleagues.

As we know, people buy from people, so those connections really do matter in business. We ask different sorts of questions and bring a different perspective to situations and problems, which I think is really valuable.

I’m proud to say that many of Advanté’s earliest clients are still with us today, and I know that’s due to the mutual respect and trust that we share, just as much as the products themselves.

You say that things are starting to change – how so?

There are definitely more women coming into the industry now, although at Advanté, we have always bucked the trend anyway. Right now, 42% of our workforce is female which is three times the national average.

Even though the majority of our female staff work in office-based jobs, their roles do cover the majority of our operations, including transport, production support, sales, marketing, client operations, admin and accounts. We haven’t yet been successful in recruiting female engineers or drivers, but that’s not for want of trying!

 

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Why do you think women don’t often apply to companies in the construction sector?

It’s primarily down to a lack of information. If young women and girls, and to be honest men and boys too, are not aware of the opportunities available in construction, they won’t attempt to pursue them. Generally speaking, most people are unaware of the huge number of roles that exist in the construction industry, everything from Quantity Surveyors to Carpenters to Project Managers.

And of course, the perception that jobs in the trades are for men is still prevalent. Those barriers will always limit women’s access to certain jobs until they are broken down.

This year, I’ll be focusing on some practical measures to try and encourage more women to apply for roles with us, and in particular for apprenticeships.

 

Do you think the construction industry would benefit from having more female employees?

Absolutely. Every business needs people from a range of different backgrounds and perspectives in order to succeed.

If you need to solve complex problems or want to generate innovative ideas within your organisation, that diversity of thought is essential. If you only employ people of the same gender and background, you’re essentially limiting your business to a fairly narrow viewpoint.

 

What’s your favourite aspect of your role?

The construction industry is full of good, down to earth, open people, and I love nothing more than getting together around a table with a diverse team to solve a problem – there’s nothing better!

I feel privileged to work with a team that shares the same values as me. We just want to do the best we can for our clients.

 

 

What would you say to women out there who have perhaps never considered a career in construction?

I would urge them to look into it seriously. It’s a fantastic industry, and there are lots of exciting and rewarding opportunities for women, in many different kinds of roles.

If you already have a certain perception of what this industry is like, I encourage you to take another look. It could be the best move you ever make!

Thank you, Mandy – and happy International Women’s Day!

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