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Women in construction interview with Joanna Sheldon, Build-Zone Survey Services

Women make up around 14% of construction industry professionals and this number can only be set to rise with more and more women opting to enter the male-oriented world of construction. It must be said though, that misconceptions about gender-specific roles are gradually diminishing with a growing number of women choosing a career in construction, however, there still appears to be very little concern across the industry about this low-level percentage of female employment, and only modest attempts to change attitudes and fix the problem.

We recently caught up with Joanna Sheldon who is Construction Technical Auditor for Build-Zone Survey Services on her experiences having worked in the construction sector since she left a sales role when she was 25.

Joanna first got a taste for the construction sector whilst she was on a sabbatical travelling around Indonesia. She volunteered for a construction role in Bali where she helped with building a kindergarten school. She realised that being on site and being a project organiser for a construction project was actually something she enjoyed and was good at!

On her return to the UK, Joanna immediately applied for roles in construction and was quick to secure a position with a well-known house builder where she went on to spend four years as a Assistant Site Manager before joining the BZSS team.

The most challenging aspect of working on a site for Joanna was the learning curve around the intricacies of building houses, namely the highly legislative nature that surrounds each project. The rules and regulations are set in stone, so Joanna was extremely diligent in training and learning programs to bring her up to the right technical levels and know-how around different building techniques from block and beam, to timber-framed houses and eco-house building.

But through challenge, comes innovative thinking and Joanna has already decided that she and her partner may one day do a self-build of their own, and this idea is very much on the cards to turn into a reality as her partner is a builder, so they would have the best of both worlds in executing such a project between them.

When asked about her favorite aspect of working in construction, Joanna absolutely loves seeing the reaction of homeowners moving into their new properties, knowing she has led a team of professionals to create their dream homes, safe in the knowledge that a compliant, high specification home is being handed over with the keys. It’s a great feeling, she said. Her least favorite part about the industry is the early starts, long hours, and weekend work!

The concept of women in construction is becoming more than just an emerging trend as far as Joanna is concerned. She has noticed over the past few years more and more women taking roles in construction because the industry is so varied. So when we think about women in construction, it’s not necessarily the fact they need to be hands-on site operatives, because there are lots more opportunities coming through now where females can secure roles on and offsite, from CEO level to trades levels.

Seeing more women coming into the construction workforce definitely reflects the recent increased promotion of such roles through schools, colleges, and training suppliers. Even just ten years ago, working in construction for females was never really pushed as a career option and was always deemed ‘something for the boys’ – but by raising awareness around the huge opportunities in the sector now, we are starting to see women turning to these predominantly-male driven jobs.

Flexible working, unfortunately, regardless of gender, is still way behind for the construction sector and this does tend to put some women off as (even in this day and age!) are still the main caregivers and still need to earn respect from male counterparts. Working from home isn’t feasible, but flexible schedules on site would definitely help with career-making decisions.

Joanna’s experience has been overall very positive considering she is in a minority. Her colleagues received her very well and once they realised she knew her stuff and was serious about delivering a professional service, she quickly became embedded in the team. She was also grateful to be provided with her own bathroom facilities on site, which although a minor point, it was a scenario that needed to be facilitated because she’s female!

Initiatives like Women in Construction Day(s) and events are very important to Joanna because the more that it is discussed, especially on shared experiences, the more people – all genders – can reflect and look deeper into opportunities and outcomes for the industry as a whole. She is a huge advocate of keeping the message pushed out as much as possible. There are signs that more women are considering construction careers and that long-held industry views about women in the sector are changing for the better, albeit slowly. But more needs to happen so those responsible for the built environment better reflect the society it is designed to serve.

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