Michaela Wain is the owner of Design and Build UK magazine, and founder of the Women in Construction Awards.
She is also director of Vantage Utility Connections, Property Ninjas and was a finalist on the BBC’s The Apprentice, in 2017.
by Rory Butler / November 18, 2022
Michaela recently spoke at the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) conference, on 15 November.
Construction Wave sat down with Michaela after the conference to find out more about inequality in the industry.
How important are CIOB EDI panels to our sector – and how do you perceive your role in that conversation?
“They are incredibly important to help reach the wider community and set an example, to ensure everyone knows this is a conversation worth having,” said Michaela.
“For people like me who have been working on EDI within the industry for years, it can feel like the conversation is still very basic and more needs to be happening. However, for a large chunk of the industry this is the first time they are having these conversations and hearing other people’s perspectives.
“I believe anyone who has a voice in the industry and is different to the ‘norm’ in some way has a duty to use their voice, platform and influence to help those who see themselves in us, to move forward without the same limiting hurdles we have faced.”
What can the UK education system do to encourage more females to consider a career in construction?
“I think our education system is hugely flawed for both girls and boys,” said Michaela. “The fact that schools still gender any industry is tragic and shows the lack of knowledge teachers hold when it comes to this.
“The education system tends to look to boys who leave school with little to no qualifications when it comes to manual jobs. There is no information about the many different career opportunities within the industry and the varied access routes.
“When you layer this with the fact there is an unconscious bias towards what job roles girls are perceived to be able to do and what they aren’t, it creates a very small and niche talent pool entering the industry.
“The education system, in my opinion, needs a complete overhaul. We need to teach our children about independent working, self-employed, company owners, as well as career progression and strong financial understanding.
“Also, per the stability of industries: construction makes up 7% of GDP. There will always be houses that need to be built and improved and infrastructure will always be required. The industry is a secure one to be in and we should be talking about this.”
What lessons have you learned in your career that can inspire other women to succeed and gain visibility in construction?
“To celebrate our differences. Be unapologetically feminine,” said Michaela. “We have, by nature, many different qualities to men, all of which are needed in construction. Take time to help other women who are facing the same challenges you may have faced. Always let your voice be heard. Understand your value and ensure your wage reflects that.
“Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. Move on when you aren’t being shown the respect you deserve. Find a mentor and a coach (preferably a male coach and a female mentor). Find a community of like-minded people and work together to create a working environment you are excited to be part of.”
Where in the sector can women be encouraged to pursue a career where there is a noticeable deficit?
“On the tools is where we have the main gap,” said Michaela. “However, at a boarder level is also a major issue and something which needs improving immediately.
“Women need to see that there are opportunities for them if they dedicate their lives and careers to construction. They need to have role models and inspiration at the top to keep them in the industry. We have a huge retention issue with women, and I believe this is an easy fix.
“We also need to widen the net when it comes to the talent pools which we use to recruit women. Use transferable skills and attract women from other industries who will add value to organisations and will be the visibility other women need.”
What do you love about construction?
“The legacy you leave when working on a project,” said Michaela. “How many times have you heard someone saying, ‘I did the windows on that building’; ‘I did the groundwork there,’ etc? Buildings will remain long after us. You can change people’s lives whilst changing the landscape.
“Every day is different. I really enjoy my job and the people I work with. It’s led me all over and allowed me to have financial freedom. Also, the money is great, and we should all be talking more about that, especially to young women. Working in a typically female industry, such as [beauty] versus in construction can be up to a four-times difference in hourly salary. If we want women to be independent, they need to be earning more money. Construction provides that.”
What are the main obstacles in the industry holding women back?
“Unconscious bias. Confidence. Outright discrimination. Maternity leave,” said Michaela. “Our main problem is the unconscious bias – walking on to site and being ignored as if you are there to take notes and not the owner of the company. Presuming you won’t understand something because you are a woman. Being overlooked for career progression because you’re a woman.
“I don’t believe the people who are guilty of this are bad people. I think they just don’t know what they don’t know. They haven’t seen evidence of women being on site working before, therefore they presume it isn’t what the woman is there for this time. We just need to speak about this more and make people aware of the situation. Women also need to take some responsibility and try to be confident when asking for what they want, whether that is a promotion or the correct PPE.
“Maternity leave is still a huge problem. Men still worry about women taking leave and instead of addressing this, they avoid it and therefore avoid the women. So much changes on a project or in a company whilst women are on maternity leave, they need to be kept better informed of changes and progression so when they come back, they can hit the ground running. Men need equal paternity leave so there is no discrimination between men and women of child baring age.”
To find out more about Michaela, visit: https://www.michaela-wain.co.uk/