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What I Learned About Women in Construction

Here at SureSet we buck the trend with women accounting for one third of our workforce, of which Rachel Parkinson, our Operations Manager, is one. Not only
are Operations Team managed by Rachel, she is also no stranger to site work!

Being in this unique position, we thought you would like to hear a bit more about Rachel’s role in a largely male dominated industry.

How did you get into the construction industry?
It happened by accident!

I studied computing at university in Wolverhampton. After graduating I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, but having loved database design and development as a student, I thought perhaps that’s what I’d end up doing.

However, I needed to get work straight away and start paying back my student loan!

After enrolling with temping agencies I was offered an interview with a company called Gridcom (part of what was then National Grid); they installed mobile phone transmitting and receiving equipment onto existing infrastructure such as electricity pylons. They offered me a choice of two roles, Project Coordinator or Logistics Coordinator; I accepted the former.

When National Grid and Transco merged, I applied for a job assisting with the development of a new database to ease the transition of the two companies into one. I was not given that role, but was offered the job of Delivery Manager.

This was a considerable step up from the coordinator role I had been fulfilling so I must have been doing something right!

I moved to the Watford office and got myself a flat in Harrow, weekend commuting back home to Faringdon, Oxfordshire, where my husband Duncan was still living. It was an exciting time delivering new sites for the Airwave project – the combined emergency services telecommunications system and the beginning of my career as a Project Manager.

How did you find yourself at SureSet?
It was a case of being in the right place at the right time!

Duncan had decided he was going to leave the Army and it looked certain that we would be settling in the Warminster area. I was working as a Project Planner for a company in Westbury but came to realise that this was not a company where I would be able to develop my career. So started to look for work with an organisation where I would be happy to work for more than the usual two years that life in the Army had revolved around for many years.

As luck would have it, I saw an advert for an Operations Coordinator role at SureSet and submitted my CV. Here I am 18 months later, now the Operations Manager and just about to buy a house in the village!

On a day-to-day basis what does your job involve?
Organised chaos!

My job is to manage the installation projects from the time an order is placed through to its completion.

This involves communicating with the on-site project manager, arranging site visits, deliveries and scheduling our work around other trades on site. I have to organise labour for site visits and installations and ensure that the right materials are on site at the right time. Rubbish clearance at the end of a project also needs organising and then there’s all of the paperwork that goes with it!

What do you love about your job?
There’s never a dull moment!

I am currently managing about 50 projects – some are small and need little input from me, but others are large complex projects that require a lot of juggling.

I work with some lovely people and I really enjoy meeting new people, whether in person, when I go out on site or over the telephone. It’s really important to build good working relationships with people I’m liaising with on site, staff I manage, sub-contractors and other members of staff that I work alongside.

What are you not so fond of?
Administration!

Every job has its related administration tasks – however large or small – and this role is no exception. It’s a necessary evil in life, but paperwork drives me mad!

I have to say that SureSet is a great company to work for in many ways, but the help from other members of staff in times of need makes it stand out from any other organisation I have ever worked for.

When I’m snowed under other staff are always on hand to help out.

What has your personal experience been as a woman working in the construction industry?
Overall, my experience of working in the construction industry has been a positive one.

Most of the time, I am treated no differently than my male peers. Very occasionally people might be a little surprised that I hold the position of authority that I do, but once they get to know me and see how I work any scepticism they may have once had disappears.

Very few people patronise me because of my gender and it does bother me when it happens, but I never react or say anything. I tell myself that at the end of the day I’m better than that and probably better at what I do than they are.

I think you need to be tough in a role such as mine, whatever your gender.

Do you come across many other women in this industry?
Very few!

Sadly this is true, even though there are now more women employed within the industry than when I started out. Traditionally women are employed in supporting roles, such as that in which I started my journey, but few go into management positions or the practical manual roles on site.

This is true for many industries and it is good to see things improving.

How do you find it when you go on site?
I love getting out on site.

I’m a strong believer in never asking anyone to do something I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself. This includes getting up a 3.30am to be on site on a cold November morning and not getting home until 9.00pm or working on a Saturday!

Being on site gives me a really good feel for what I’m asking the guys to do and helps me plan their work better. It’s also great that I can supply an extra pair of hands when they are needed. Labouring on site is physically demanding and I always sleep soundly that night!

I always get looks of interest on site – having a female labourer is about as novel in the industry as having a female boss!

What advice would you give to young women interested in getting into the construction industry?
Just do it!

I don’t think being female should stop us doing or achieving anything we want to. It sometimes makes it more difficult to get to where we want to be, than if we were male, but that makes the achievement all the greater.

I love project management and I love working in construction. It may not have been an easy journey to get here but I definitely wouldn’t change where I am.

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If you would like more information about women in construction, you might find these websites useful:

CIBT – Construction Industry Training Board
UCATT – Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
NAWIC – National Association of Women in Construction
Your Life – a Government backed initiative encouraging girls to pursue subjects that will open up options for a career in the construction industry.