It’s the start of a new year, the time for making resolutions and perhaps making changes to certain areas of our lives. Taking a leap to change careers can be daunting. Particularly if you’re diving into territory dominated by males and brimming with gender stereotypes.
But it’s a journey that many women have successfully taken to make up almost 6% of the trade industry. This figure* may seem small but the number is slowly rising as more and more women quit their jobs and seek to build themselves a more fulfilling career.
Hattie Hasan is a 57-year-old plumber who worked as a teacher for 8 years before she decided to retrain and follow her passion for water. “It seemed to me that teaching was no longer about educating children. I wanted to do a trade because I’ve always been handy growing up and if you pair that with my passion for water, it had to be plumbing.” Hattie now runs the only all-female plumbing organisation of its kind in the world, Stopcocks. “It’s a plumbing term, when you turn off your mains cold water you turn it off at the stopcock. It’s a very, very clever pun,” she explains laughing.
However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Hattie and her staff have faced their fair share of sexist comments and stereotyping over the years. “One guy kept emailing saying, ‘women can’t be plumbers, they’ll break their finger nails and go running home crying’, I just wrote back to him saying you are joking aren’t you?” Thankfully this is a trend the women are seeing less of now and are supported by trade giants like John Lewis Homes Solutions and Vaillant.
But what makes female plumbers so appealing to customers? Hattie believes it lies with respect. “If you treat people with respect, no matter what your gender, customers will keep coming back to you. And that is something we, as female plumbers just do naturally.”
Spreading awareness of the women already working a trade is also essential. “By making ourselves visible as a franchise we’re making other women plumbers visible in the world, this makes it more normal.” Supporting older women who change career and retrain as a plumber is part of the company’s ethos too. “Younger women are coming into it but definitely for the most part it’s women who have already invented themselves into something else.”
“One guy kept emailing saying, ‘women can’t be plumbers, they’ll break their finger nails and go running home crying’”
Mandy Reynolds spent 20 years working in financial services before retraining in electrics 11 years ago aged 49. “I wanted desperately to get out but I couldn’t afford to go to university. I needed something quicker so I thought I’d retrain in the trades because people always need something doing to their house.”
Mandy now runs Mand Made, a successful electricians firm based in Sheffield which she set up after her training as she wasn’t taken on by any pre-existing companies. “We need to concentrate on women returners and women who want to do something different. I understand the government has an interest in keeping employment figures on the right side and giving 16-18 year olds work, but you have to get equality in the workplace.”
Gender stereotyping is still an issue faced by Mandy and other tradeswomen today. “It’s a disgrace and it is changing but it’s like trying to turn an ocean liner. You can do it but they’re very big and it takes a very long time.” However, many of Mand Made’s customers have sought out their services specifically because most of the staff are women. “More importantly than keeping things tidy, people think that because we are women we are actually more careful and safer with what we do, electrical work is potentially very dangerous.”
“It’s simply not acceptable that in banking, in medicine, in any other field you can think of, there is at least a reasonable representation of women yet in construction it’s less than 1%. Hello?”
Research form the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) the UK’s leading voluntary regulatory body for the electrical contracting industry, showed that 41% of women said they would feel safer with a female electrician working in their home. With a lion’s share of the industry made up of men, Mandy is adamant the industry is crying out for women. “It’s simply not acceptable that in banking, in medicine, in any other field you can think of, there is at least a reasonable representation of women yet in construction it’s less than 1%. Hello?”.
As well as a gap in the industry for female tradespeople, Mandy has learnt that being an electrician can be extremely rewarding. “The average customer finds electricity mystifying and frightening, so I really enjoy explaining it to them so that they understand what it is, how it works and how to use it safely.”
Paul Collins from the NICEIC helps run their Jobs for the Girls Campaign which was set up in 2012 to raise awareness of the lack of women in the working in trade. “I think it’s about women getting over that initial fear of thinking that they can’t do it. There’s plenty of women out there doing the job but we actually need more women because there’s a skills gap .”
2018 marks 100 years since women got the vote and the regulatory body hope to use this to intensify their campaigning and support efforts. Paul revealed that a lot more of the people getting in touch were women showing an interest in the trade a lot later who maybe didn’t consider a trade career during their school years. “Sometimes they’ve gone on to have families and now want a bit more flexibility around their work and that’s why they’ve got involved.”
Like Mandy Reynolds experienced, training to become an electrician can be financially challenging. This is something the NICEIC are determined to help with. “We want to offer a bursary whereby women or people in the trade will be able to apply to us for help with their training costs.” The scheme was deemed a success when three passionate ladies were sponsored through their studies and are now working in apprenticeships with some of the NICEIC’s registered contractors.
While there is still a long way to go in ensuring gender equality in trade professions in terms of actual numbers, Hattie, Mandy and Paul all identified that attitudes and views are increasingly improving. So, could 2018 be the year you break free from your unsatisfactory career and enter the world of trade?
To find out more about women in trade follow the links below.