Is there still more to do to get women into trade industries?
The trade industry in the UK has historically been dominated by men. But over the last decade, the number of women in trade has increased by an impressive 120 per cent, with an estimated 33,000 tradeswomen in 2019 compared to 15,000 in 2009. Of this number 73 per cent are working as builders.
If the industry sees the same level of growth as it has done since 2009, then there could be as many as 51,000 women in construction by 2029.
However, the question remains: why aren't more women taking on other trade roles? There were only 1,000 female plumbers compared with 52,000 male plumbers and 8,000 female electricians compared to 230,000 male electricians in 2019.
We talk to Anne Timpany, Director of On Top Plumbers, a London and Hertfordshire based commercial plumbing company, to get her thoughts on why there is a lack of women in trade industries.
How did you get into the plumbing industry?
My husband is a plumber and gas engineer. Over ten years ago he announced that he wanted to start his own business. So, with the help of my expertise, we started On Top Plumbers and have been going strong ever since.
Have you faced any prejudice or stereotypes whilst working in your industry?
I've found it to be an advantage being a female in this industry. However, I have had occasional comments, which have surprisingly come from well-educated men in managerial office-based roles, who are around the same age as me, which I would never have expected. However, this hasn't deterred me. Being that rare thing, a woman in the plumbing industry, has enabled me to raise my profile, gain regular media opportunities and win awards such as the Natwest Everywoman Athena award back in 2017.
What do you think is the main reason that puts women off wanting to get into trade related industries?
I think that women are put off by the manual labour element of trade industries – a lot of what tradespeople do requires heavy lifting and manual work, which doesn't appeal to the majority of women. Secondly, I have also heard many young women complain that their parents or teachers have discouraged them from going into the trades industry as it's not a good career path. This is also fuelled by the media and the public's general mistrust of all tradespeople. In relation to the office-based roles of the trades industry, I think that women consider it to be very 'blokey' and that comes with an attitude of sexism and prejudice.
What do you think employers need to do to encourage more women into trade roles?
By creating environments within businesses that appeal to more women, actively supporting groups within the industry that promote female inclusion, teaming up with other employers and taking part in campaigns to show that the industry is inclusive and values female contributions. As a whole, the industry needs to work homogeneously to raise its standards and rid itself of the general reputation of cowboys and rouge traders.
Finally, what would you say to women who are thinking about going into a trade related job and are unsure or afraid?
I would say to those women wanting to get into trade related roles that being in the trade industry can help them to stand out and they can really make an impact by being a minority that is valued. The benefits of having more women in the industry is that diversity brings change and progressive thinking. This will enable an industry which is traditional, conservative and slow to change, to revolutionise and keep up with more well-regarded and modern industries.
So, what's next?
With a 120 per cent increase in tradeswomen in the last decade, it's clear that attitudes are changing. But more work still needs to be done. The industry needs to focus on modernising its ways and improving its reputation to attract new people, ideas and experiences. With a more forward-thinking outlook more women may be inclined to enter trade related roles.
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