Mind the gender gap

Scan any newspaper and you’ll see headlines about gender equality. We all know it’s morally right, so why aren’t there more women in traditional trades roles?

Rebecca McAdam meets an association helping to close the gender gap.

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Think of a plumber. Now imagine a bricklayer, an electrician, a gas engineer or a carpenter. You’re thinking of a man, right?

In the world of construction and house maintenance we are all used to seeing images of men in hard hats – because that’s usually the way it is.

But things are changing – and changing for the better. More and more women are now entering areas traditionally thought of as ‘man’s work’.

And it’s bringing benefits to every corner of the housing industry.

Recent research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) shows a third of UK homeowners would rather hire a female tradesperson than a male, with over half of those believing females would be more respectful of their home.

To find out more, I travelled to Plus Dane Housing’s Liverpool office to meet two ambitious young ladies making their mark in the housing
sector.

Both called Chloe (what’s the chances!) Chloe O’Sullivan-Morgan and Chloe Black managed to beat over 800 candidates to gain a place
on an apprenticeship course that’s led them to the world of housing.

Both girls explained how their intended careers made a U-turn before they found their talents were better suited elsewhere.

Chloe B works on the gas servicing team and is half way through her four year college course. A change of heart lead her to her current position: “I am a qualified joiner. I originally went to college to do childcare but I don’t like babies!

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“That was a massive jump. I work with my hands and I enjoy joinery but I knew I wanted to be multi-trade so then I moved into plumbing and heating,” she said.

Chloe O works on electrical installations and will be fully qualified by the end of this year. She says: “I speak quite a few languages so as soon as I finished school I went to a college and took four a-levels (Law, Psychology, Spanish and French) and decided half way through that it wasn’t really for me.

“I didn’t want to be stuck in an office job nine to five every day where it’s the same set routine. I just thought I’d rather do something where my mind’s going to be occupied and I’m always seeing different people every day.

“I then looked into a local college and carried out level three electrical installation.

“When I finished my qualifications I found the advert for an apprenticeship and sent off the application. Got through two interviews and was offered a job. It’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

During the four-year course, there were, surprisingly, only two other females on the programme – a plasterer and a gas engineer.

I wondered if it was harder for women to get into the trades, but both Chloes agreed it’s just down to hard work and dedication. “I don’t think there’s any difference. As long as you’re willing to put in the effort, doing the learning and putting in 100%,” says Chloe B.

Also in agreement is Chloe O: “If you work hard there shouldn’t be any inequality. We’re in a modern time where people have developed and accept it.

“Maybe the older generation might look at it a bit differently, but I know now, especially with the people we work alongside, there’s no gap, there’s no difference between us. They accept us for who we are and how we work.”

Both Chloe’s are keen to encourage other women to be confident in taking up a manual trade in the industry. “We’re setting a blazing trail for the future generation. For girls to look at us when we go into people’s houses. We are often asked how and why we got into this. Their kids are there and I think it’s good to show that to people,” Chloe O shares.

Chloe B is equally enthusiastic, saying: “I get a lot of women saying they are dead proud of you coming into this male-dominated environment, you do get a lot of praise from the tenants.”

Tenants themselves are also pleased to see the sway in gender equality, often saying ‘We’ve never had work done in the house by a woman before’, and ‘Plus Dane came into our house today and they were females’.

“I think it’s opening up people’s minds more – making them see you can do this,” affirms Chloe O.

“It would be like going to the hospital and there being a male nurse, and you say I don’t want a male nurse to treat me because there’s always been a woman there. You can’t do that. As long as you work hard and put your mind to it there should be no gap,” she says.

There are certain situations where having a female worker on board is even more of a benefit to housing associations. Women’s refuges, certain religions and some older women tend to feel more comfortable with a female tradesperson, with most citing trust issues as the reason.

“In having us working in the trades in this company it gives them the diversity to look for,” says Chloe O.

Learning new skills has also had a favourable impact on both of the girls’ families. Chloe B explains: “My dad was chuffed. He’s in health and safety so when I decided I wanted to work in the trade he practically did a back-flip. He was dead excited.”

Chloe O concurs: “My mum was the same. As soon as I’d finished and got my certificate through the post, the first thing she did was buy a whole new set of lights for the kitchen for me to put up.”

“I get that from my dad – ‘can you just hang these new doors”, laughs Chloe B.

Both girls see the apprenticeship leading to a long-term career.

“I want to work myself up through the company, develop and grow and learn about other things that go on in the company, not just the trades but everything else as well,” enthuses Chloe O.

Chloe B hopes to pass her knowledge on to other candidates, saying: “I hope to be fully employed by Plus Dane and I want my own apprentice in the future. It’s a job for life. I want to train the new generation – you couldn’t get anything better than that.”

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