International Women’s Day: How social media is helping to banish isolation in the construction industry

To mark International Women’s Day (8 March), our associate director Jo Jones – who became the first woman in the business to take on the senior role – talks about how she has been helping a university student with her dissertation, which discusses how social media is helping to remove the feeling of isolation from women in the construction sector.

For decades, centuries even, construction has been referred to as a “man’s job”.
It’s an industry I had never even considered, possibly due to the gender stereotype of burly men on a building site in a hard hat.

I fell into construction by accident – I originally went to college for three years and studied product design, but in my first two jobs in the construction and property industry I was given the opportunity to learn computer-aided design (CAD).

Since joining the engineering sector, I’ve realised what a fantastic career path it really is. People just need to learn what opportunities are available to them because development and infrastructure is important for the whole country.That’s why I jumped at the chance to help University of Northampton student, Victoria Preekel, with her dissertation.

As a construction management student, her project focusses on social media and how it is helping to remove the feeling of isolation from among women working in the construction sector.
Victoria chose the topic as she personally felt isolated when she started her electrical apprenticeship in 2004. There were no other female electricians at work or at college that she could share her experiences with.

It’s hard to believe that in 2004, Facebook was in its infancy and Twitter didn’t even exist. If those platforms would have been as popular as they are now, Victoria would have had access to thousands of women in similar positions to herself with just the touch of a button.

At the end of 2016, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed women formed just 12.8% of the construction workforce. So, while many women feel like a minority in their own workplace, social media shows they don’t have to feel like a minority within the industry. Social media is a wonderful way for women in the construction industry to showcase their abilities and gain trust.

I’ve attended multiple organised events aimed at women in construction – such as National Association of Women in Construction, Women in Property and Women Working in Construction – that are advertised on social media.And I’m constantly engaging with other females in engineering on LinkedIn to keep that professional focus we are pushing in the industry. We can communicate through mentions, tags and online conversations that can be seen by others, including our male counterparts. The old-fashioned gender stereotype is still in play at times but as a new generation is coming through, the way we were once pigeonholed is on its way out.

There is a lot more support among female peers – things are definitely changing.
In the last two years I have seen an increase in women utilising their academic abilities to break into the industry. Women are also consciously taking on more responsibilities and are not afraid to push into higher ranking positions.

We have two female engineers in our Birmingham office and we’re working hard to achieve a gender balance in the business.It may take time, but I think education is key for showing that gender is not a pre-requisite to success in the construction industry.

We need to start promoting the jobs available to women while they are still in school, and making sure we’re talking about what a fantastic industry construction is for women.

Victoria said: “When I started my dissertation research, I found Jo’s article on ‘construction is no longer a man’s job’. I knew after reading the story and looking her up on social media that from her professional background, social media presence and her passion for equality in construction, she would be an ideal person to interview.

“With the capabilities of social media, I now have access to not just other female electricians but a varied range of women working through the construction industry. Women who are willing to share their experiences and offer advice to others in similar situations.”