‘Construction is a good place to be’ say female site workers on International Women’s Day

By Nick Batten on 8 March, 2021

Women working on construction sites marking International Women’s Day say they are seeing more female faces alongside them than ever before – but more needs to be done to encourage others.

Stonewood Partnerships, based in Tormarton and Castle Combe, now has women in almost half its roles, many of whom are members of Women in Property, which promotes female progression in the industry.

Planning Manager Holly Simkiss, who has been visiting sites for 15 years, says the complexion is gradually changing, but not quickly enough. Before joining Stonewood last year she was a planning officer at Stroud District Council.

“Before I started at Stroud it was predominantly all-male but there has definitely been a shift in the tide and there are far more women in planning in local government now,” she said.

For Holly, being a woman on site 15 years ago was far more challenging than it is today. “I have been on-site in the past and I definitely have felt like I have had to have explanations dumbed down for me because they think I won’t get it. Now I think it is a given that I understand, it’s a very level playing field.”

But according to Holly, her early experiences on-site were probably shaped more by her lack of experience than any prejudice. “There is a massive anxiety when you are going on to a site and it is all men, particularly as a planning officer when you are a decision-maker,” she said. “It was like pack mentality, all blokes together and ‘we’ll show the woman’ but that has changed massively, it just doesn’t happen anymore.

“Interestingly, now when I meet consultants for things like highways and transport, ecology or landscaping on-site, most of them are other women and that’s not a conscious decision on my part to instruct other women, that’s just the way it is now.”

Holly feels still more must be done to encourage younger girls to consider construction as a career. “Those who are working in this environment should be telling girls that it is a good place to be, an equal place to be.”

When Assistant Site Manager Maisie Lapham first wanted to enter the sector as a painting and decorating apprentice at 19, everyone she knew discouraged her. “My family and friends tried to talk me out of it, they said it was a man’s job and said I wouldn’t like it,” she recalled.

Maisie Lapham, Assistant Site Manager

“I stuck to my guns and I was proved right. I am so pleased I chose construction because I love the hands-on nature of it, I like problem-solving and I’m out on-site and not in an office all day.”

Although the male-dominated environment was daunting at first, Maisie soon earned the respect of her older colleagues. 

“Since I’ve been a site manager, I’ve found that often the men prefer to deal with a woman because I can be calmer, so it does work in my favour. I’ve also grown in confidence and I won’t tolerate being spoken back to. I’m strong enough to stand up for what I know is right.”

Fear was also an emotion Assistant Quantity Surveyor Lily Elder first experienced on site when she started working at Stonewood two years ago. “I was terrified,” she said, “I think it was because it was male-dominated and at that time I was the only female on the construction side.

“But I’ve grown in confidence now and I really don’t think being a woman makes the job harder. But you still need to have a little bit of strength to stand your ground when you are in dispute with someone. There’s no obvious sexism but sometimes there is a tone when you are telling someone they haven’t won a contract.”

Above: the next generation? Five-year-old Betsy Lye, daughter of Stonewood Partnerships’ Project Manager Ross Lye, could well follow in her dad’s footsteps

Sales and Marketing Manager Jasmine Endersby attends Women in Property events and feels there is a need for organisations like it. “I think it has a role to play in breaking down barriers even more,” she said. “As a mum of three girls, I am all for empowering women to believe they can be anything they want to be.

“The only way you can break down stereotypes is through education and having role models to inspire people at a young age.”

Stonewood is planning to run workshops with local schools to highlight the opportunities in construction.

The high percentage of women in key roles at Stonewood is encouraging, says Jasmine. “Generally in construction, the male-female diversity is quite low but at Stonewood Partnerships, it is 43 percent female and the roles are spread right across all the disciplines, in construction, technical and commercial, which is great,” she added.

Pictured: (Top of Page) Holly Simkiss and Lily Elder