Construction is big on our small Island. A 5000+ strong industry, but proportionally fewer women. Though, that’s not surprising at all; construction has historically been a male-dominated industry, and numerically, is still that. Despite female numbers in the industry being fewer, there are plenty of qualified and experienced women all over the island challenging that numerical norm by taking up careers in construction that are skilled, interesting and diverse.
It’s empowering and refreshing, though still quite a rarity to see a project where three different faculties of construction are represented by three different women, but here we find just that. The architectural technician, the structural engineer, and the quantity surveyor on a current construction project are all female. Meet Jessica Smits, Angela Benevant and Hannah Werrin; three women thriving in their industry, and contributing to the islands growth. I caught up with them about their experiences in the industry and how it feels to be a women in construction.
Jess is an Architectural Technician which means she supports an architectural project from concept to completion. “The role is quite varied and by working for a small practice it’s nice to get involved with all stages of work.”
Hannah is a quantity surveyor. “The best way to explain a quantity surveyor is as a Construction Accountant. We deal with the commercial aspects such as managing costs on a construction project pre and post contract. We will also get involved with tender negotiations, estimating, procurement, buying materials and monthly valuations that involve measuring the value of works done on-site by the sub-contractors.”
Angela is a structural engineer “I design the structure of the proposed development so that it is stable and sufficiently strong to resist the applied loads. The process usually starts by reviewing the Architect’s drawings and providing our input on the proposed scheme. I then proceed with the design calculations and work with a CAD technician to produce tender drawings, which are checked and issued to the builders or Quantity Surveyor for pricing. When the project is ready to commence on site, we produce an SER certificate for the project and issue our construction drawings.
As a group of women, we discussed not only industry challenges, but gender-based challenges and experiences within the workplace. The notion of feeling like you have to prove yourself is a common sentiment, but one that isn’t only restricted to the construction industry. We spoke about the importance of feeling comfortable, and having the confidence to challenge gendered comments and conversations in the workplace.
For Jess, the notion can be a driver and a motivator, but one that shouldn’t be required. “I need to be confident in my knowledge and in my drawings. I want to be able to prove myself, but don’t want to have to prove myself. Being a woman in the construction industry, I often feel like I have to prove myself more. I’ve had experiences on site or in meetings for projects that I am running where people will address my male colleagues and assume I am the minute-taker”.
Angela agreed, “As a woman, I sometimes feel I need to prove my knowledge more than my male colleagues, but thankfully that is rare. There have been a few awkward moments, but I imagine this happens in other industries, not just construction”.
For Hannah, she said “It can be a bit overwhelming to begin with, however, the construction industry is all about building relationships, more often than not people are willing to help. Like anything to begin with, it can sometimes be a little daunting, however, it slowly goes away and you build on your confidence”.
Despite challenges, the three of them aren’t intimated in their industry. If you work hard, you’ll gain their respect. Angela explains how she doesnt let gender affect her work, “To me, gender is irrelevant; it is, as it should be, about each person’s competence and commitment to the project, providing quality work and willingness to cooperate with the other parties”. Hannah agrees, saying she’s “currently based on site and is the only female, however, this doesn’t come to mind, we all work together as a team.”
There are a lot of forward-thinking people on-island within the industry and even in the time Angela, Jess and Hannah have been in the industry, a progressive shift can be seen, with the number of women in the industry growing. Jess says, “ It was great to see on this project in particular, the involvement from so many different women in different fields. It’s a sign that Jersey is working to be more progressive, inclusive and supporting woman in construction.
It’s encouraging for people who want to be a part of the industry to see that it’s becoming less of a “boys club”. As these women thrive, they pave the way for other young women to continue to challenge norms and join the industry. I asked them to give a few words of advice to those considering a future in construction.
Angela: “Don’t be intimidated by the historically male-dominated nature of the construction industry. Being a structural engineer is challenging but also very interesting, rewarding and satisfying as you get to see the result of your hard work. There are more and more women working in construction and this is a trend that will continue. In Spain, the ratio of women to men is more equal, followed by France and then Jersey.”
Hannah: “If you’re a female and you’re curious about getting involved in construction, I’d recommend researching different options, getting in touch with different companies. They are always willing to have a chat with you and go over career options and explain what they do as a company. Give it a go, there are more and more women going down the construction route.”
Jess: “Have thick skin and be confident. You don’t always need to be the loudest voice in the room, but if you work hard and know your sh*t then that will speak volumes.
What are the highlights of your role?
Hannah: The variety. No day is the same and it’s nice to be able to walk around site and not be confined to my desk. I also love seeing the building progress through stages, when you walk past a finished project, I think to myself I helped on that project.
Angela: I am constantly learning new things, challenging my brain. It is not just sitting in front of a computer, running calculations, but also working with other members of the project team to exchange thoughts and ideas, carrying out site visits to check the structure and view progress, and attending coordination meetings.
Jess: The satisfaction of seeing jobs that started off as a sketch on paper to being built on site. My grandad was an engineer and worked all round the world on some iconic buildings, like the Petronas Towers and the CN Tower, it’s really rewarding working in an industry where you can leave an lasting visual impact.