Celebrating our Women in Construction

Here at Helix, we love to celebrate all the fantastic women we have flying the Helix flag, and what better time to do that than in Women in Construction Week

Women in Construction Week (5th- 11th March) celebrates and promotes the huge contribution that women make to the construction industry. 

The theme of Women in Construction Week this year is ‘Many Paths, One Mission.’ To celebrate, here we’re speaking to a group of our female colleagues about what it’s like working in a traditionally male-dominated sector, and the different paths they took to reach their current role. 

Choosing construction

Trish Lippiatt and Keeley Foreman both studied at university and now work in Helix’s design department, developing and co-ordinating project designs and providing invaluable technical support to our delivery teams and clients.

When Trish was choosing university courses, she felt she couldn’t, as a girl, pursue her first choice of construction management. Instead, she went for industrial design but was still the only female on the course. 

Thankfully, Trish found her way into construction and has been in the industry for many years. She has seen a positive shift in behaviour and attitudes towards women in construction, which used to be extremely negative at times, but says there is still more to do: “There has always been a real lack of women in our sector, but I’m starting to see more and more coming through now, which is great.”

She thinks the need, or perception of the need, to be thick-skinned to get on in construction is changing too, and says since she’s been with Helix, she’s found it to be a family-focussed and respectful place to work. “Everyone keeps saying thank you and how much they appreciate the work we’re doing – it’s really important to me to work for a business where people feel valued.”  she says. 

Following your heart

Keeley, who joined Helix less than two months ago, also studied at university, but almost didn’t follow her heart into construction, as it wasn’t a sector she was made aware of when planning for the future. 

She said: “I was trying to fill out my application for aeronautical engineering but found that I didn’t know what to write – my heart wasn’t in it.” She decided to get some advice through a careers adviser she knew, who took her right back to what she loved, which was buildings.

Having completed her degree in Architectural Engineering & Design Management at Loughborough University, Keeley went on to work with national construction companies. While in her first role as a technical graduate, she had the opportunity to work across all the construction disciplines, giving her a broader knowledge of the sector and everyone’s roles. Keeley highly recommends taking a course with a placement year, saying the experience gained on the ground is invaluable. 

She says she has always found the teams she’s worked with inclusive and helpful. The biggest challenge she found when on site was that all the high-vis jackets were men’s sizes – something that was soon rectified by an order of smaller bomber jackets by the company!

Keeley is now liaising with her old school about talking to the girls there about the opportunities for them in construction. “My parents say they always knew I’d end up working with buildings in some way – and I’m so glad they were right, and that I’ve found my way to Helix for the next step in my career.”

No Uni, no problem

Not all routes into the construction industry require a university or formal education pathway, there are many ways to join the sector – whether through apprenticeship schemes or bringing skills across from an entirely different sector. 

Gill Callaghan is a Senior Buyer with Helix. She spent a year at college and decided it wasn’t for her. Luckily, she found a Modern Apprenticeship with a builders’ merchant and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Having worked in sales and management roles for several construction companies before swapping to a Buyer role with Helix, Gill has often been the only female in a managerial role and has experienced some patronising and disrespectful behaviour over the years. Previously, she says, she was treated differently to her male peers despite being equal in seniority, but this just made her more determined to show people that she knew what she was talking about and to prove herself in the construction world. 

Gill feels it’s much more acceptable to be a woman in construction now and would encourage more girls to consider it as a career choice. “I think it does wonders for your confidence when you prove you know your stuff and get your voice heard. It helps you become a stronger person.”

She sees there are still challenges for females in such a male dominated sector however, especially those trying to juggle family commitments and childcare, as she finds it’s rarely a 9-5 job. “Having said that, it can be done. Helix is very flexible, making the life-work juggle much easier to navigate.” 

Joining the industry later

Having joined Helix as a Business Support Manager around a month ago, Lucy Martin is the company’s latest recruit. With two grown up sons, and many years’ experience in a variety of industries, Lucy didn’t join the construction industry until she was 30. 

Having worked on large scale bids and projects for some of the biggest urban developers in the country, she loves the variety that her roles in construction have provided. “One day I could be submitting a bid, the next seeing another project start on site, and the next arranging or attending an event – no two days are the same and that’s what I enjoy.”

Having joined the construction industry later in her career, Lucy enhanced her learning by completing an Association of Project Management accreditation, and thinks waiting until you know what you enjoy and want to focus on in your work life can work just as well as a formal education straight out of college. Lucy says she would definitely encourage girls and women into the industry, even if they don’t want to study at college or have been working in a completely different environment. 

Like Gill, Lucy recognises that childcare and flexibility are a consideration, but she also sees that companies and attitudes are changing, with most realising if you want to attract the best candidates, then you need to offer more than a good salary. Until about 10 years ago, she says, the offices were made up of mostly men, but now more women are coming into construction, particularly in engineering and design.

“Where you work makes an enormous difference. I’m new to Helix but can already see that everyone is approachable, right up to the top, and I’m excited about the challenges and opportunities to come.” 

On-site opportunities

For those who prefer to be outdoors and see projects progressing first-hand, Helix has plenty of options for women to be on-site too. 

Having completed a degree in accounting in her home country of Venezuela, Jessica Colina came to London to complete her Masters in project management. While in the city, Jessica saw just how huge the construction industry was in the UK, with cranes and building sites around every corner. When it came time to find a place for her internship, she decided construction would be a good bet for the future. 

Jessica has instigated changes on site that will hopefully pave the way for future generations of women, such as ensuring female toilets on Helix’s construction sites are used only by women and kept to a high standard.

Jessica would love to see more women working out on site. “I feel that awareness of the industry and the opportunities it provides for women are more of a barrier than the attitudes of men in construction, who I’ve found to be mostly helpful, respectful and open.” 

That’s why she is hoping to visit the school next to her current site, to talk to the pupils, and particularly the girls, about how they can get involved with a hands-on career in construction, and hopefully inspire the next generation to follow her into the industry. 

Welcoming more women

Currently only an estimated 14% of construction industry professionals are women, but things are improving. Attitudes relating to perceived gender-specific roles are slowly changing, and companies like Helix are keen to encourage more women to join them, whether that’s through apprenticeships, university placements or by bringing their transferable skills across to the sector. 

Nic Davies, Helix’s Managing Director, commented: “Having welcomed a number of new staff at Helix recently, our approach seems to be working and we’re thrilled to see more women join the company. Ultimately, we want the best candidates to join us across all areas of the business, and it’s heartening to hear that our female team members feel welcomed, respected and part of our growing and dedicated team.

“The fact that some of our women in construction are taking it upon themselves to go and talk to children in schools and spread the word about the opportunities available to them says a lot about their passion for the industry, something we’re very happy to encourage and support here at Helix.” 

If you’re interested in a career in construction, Helix has a number of roles available now: https://helix.limited/2023/02/14/we-need-you/