'Be Confident' - Women in Construction Q&A
06 Mar 2017
Laura Clifford is a health and safety advisor at Hawkins Construction in Christchurch. We talked to her about what it takes to make it in construction.
What do you enjoy about working in construction?
Every day is very different. One day you will go to a site and it’s looking a certain way and the next day it will be totally different. It’s not boring! And it certainly keeps you on your toes and really busy. What I like is the variety. There’s a huge amount of variety in the work and it’s one of those industries where you are always learning. There’s quite a lot of technicalities from the different types of scaffolding to what you need to look at in emergency procedures to looking at managing all of the different aspects from when you are starting off to when you’re finishing a job.
What I was most surprised about when I first started was how caring people are and how construction people actually do care about each other. I don’t think that people actually see that. If anything, they are actually more caring of each other’s safety than they are in other sectors I’ve worked in.
Are there challenges you face as a woman in the industry?
Absolutely. I have had comments like ‘who do you think you are?’. I think there’s an initial reluctance to ask a woman questions - and this is just my perception - but I think it takes more time for them to feel comfortable to come and ask you questions. Women have certainly become more accepted in different roles in construction than they used to be, but there’s still that ‘brawn’ aspect of being stronger and tougher.
How do you deal with that?
I think you just need to be yourself. You do need to have a tough exterior. But if I was to provide anybody with advice, it would be to not take things to heart, just be confident in who you are.
Are there advantages to being a woman in construction?
There are some really good networks that are being established and because of that and the environment you’re in, you do have good strong women who do stick together. Women have a different way of approaching things than men and that can be quite useful – taking the testosterone out of things. It is bringing a different element into construction and giving construction a better reputation.
Are there more women in the industry now, as opposed to when you started eight years ago?
There were four here in Christchurch at Hawkins when I first started, and now there’s more than 20, including a lot of quantity surveyors. Overall there’s a lot more women in the industry, not just as receptionists or office-based people, but a lot more in professional roles. Our manager of commercial construction in Auckland is a woman. We are moving away from just having women in traditional roles to seeing women in professional roles.
What advice would you give to women thinking about entering the industry?
Be yourself. But also, there are also good strong support networks out there, get involved in those. It’s always good to be able to talk to people in similar situations and for everyone else it’s also an opportunity to be a mentor to young people coming into the industry, because often it is a bit of an eye-opener. So put yourself out there and be a mentor and spend time with those newbies in the industry, it is well worthwhile. I belong to NZISM professionally, but just internally the girls here have our own network and we get together and have a bit of a laugh and enjoy ourselves.