As part of our MORE! initiative at Sanctuary, we celebrate Women In Construction, spotlighting some of those who work within our business and who are inspiring other women to consider a career in the industry.

A female construction worker adding something to her tablet.

At Sanctuary we promote gender equality in construction and, through our own MORE! programme, we actively encourage our partners to promote jobs in construction to women who might not necessarily think of it as a career path.

We also work within schools, colleges, and employment services to offer talks and webinars as well as highlighting work experience, training and apprenticeship opportunities on offer across England and Scotland.

Sanctuary are highly proud of our approach and each year, through November we highlight and celebrate some of the women who work in construction with us, creating brand new homes for our dedicated, female led Sales department to take to market.

Read their stories below and if any career centres or education providers would like to know more about MORE! Women in Construction please get in touch with Colleen.Eccles@Sanctuary-Housing.co.uk. For further information on Sanctuary’s MORE! programme visit our online section.

 

Development Director (Scotland) Gillian Laverty

What is your current role?

My current role is to oversee the development programme in Scotland, from land acquisition right through to end of the defect liability period.

How did you get into your role and what are your roots in construction and development?

I secured a graduate placement within the Turner Group, before securing full time employment in the scaffolding and access division which led me into the world of construction! During this time, I was involved in surveying scaffolding projects, estimating works and actually involved in the erection of some scaffolds across the country and even abroad. Following on from there I went to work for Lovell Partnerships (who had not long taken over Carillion Contract Housing) undertaking both new build and construction works for Local Authorities and Housing Associations.

In 2005, I was the Scottish Chair for the National Association of Woman in Construction (NAWIC). I then moved on to become a Development Manager with Bett Homes before joining Wates Construction. After that I jumped the fence, to work in the housing association sector.

What is the biggest draw or benefit to women of working in the construction and development world?

There are so many roles within the house building and construction sectors, and although women remain under-represented there have been some positive changes over the past decade with an increasing number of women on our building sites. I can recall building a scaffold at Birmingham Airport (in 2003) and someone questioning what I was doing, clearly because I was a female!

One of the benefits is to be able to point to a building and say you contributed to it being built. The construction industry never stands still and continues to evolve and innovate. If you like problem solving and a challenge, then construction is for you.

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction and development?

The construction industry is facing a severe talent shortage and therefore organisations must start attracting people from a wide range of backgrounds to ensure the sector and the wider impact of construction on society continues to deliver successful outcomes. My tip to any woman considering a role in construction would be to get a move on, the industry needs a more diverse workplace!

 

Ellie Chambers, Development Graduate

What is your current role?

I’m currently in my second placement of the Development Graduate Scheme, working in Land and Planning. My role mainly consists of appraising and assessing land opportunities, working with stakeholders such as sales, housing management and our legal team to deliver Sanctuary’s Affordable Homes Programme.

How did you get into your role and what are your roots in construction and development?

I studied International Business and Management at University so had no prior roots in construction and development. I had one years’ experience working within the charity sector and applied to Sanctuary because I wanted the challenges and professional development of the corporate environment within an organisation with social justice at it’s core.

To the credit of my colleagues, I’ve been lucky enough to receive the support and learning opportunities necessary for me to confidently participate in an industry that I knew next to nothing about 9 months ago.

What is the biggest draw or benefit to women of working in the construction and development world?

I was drawn to construction because I am passionate that everyone deserves to live in a decent home that is affordable. However, I equally wanted to work in an industry that plays a big role in resolving the climate crisis. The benefit to more women and anyone outside of cis-male norms joining the construction industry, is the value of new voices and the opportunity to positively impact a sector that has so much influence on the issues we face today. It’s essential that we are ambitious in adapting the way that we build, heat, cool and maintain our homes. The sector needs to be creative in pushing for dramatic change and increased diversity is a great way of spotting opportunities and achieving change.

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction and development?

I would say go for it. The construction industry needs diversity in all its forms but it’s a domino effect that will only occur when more women join the sector. Many of my most influential colleagues have been women and I have felt so lucky to benefit from their experience. My biggest tip is to find a mentor, of any gender, and listen and learn. You’ll learn best working on the job so finding someone who’s work ethic and style you want to emulate can be so helpful in guiding you in the early days. Then you get to repeat the cycle and hold the door open for women and other underrepresented people behind you.

Senior Buyer Stella Williams

What is your current role?

I am Senior Buyer in the Construction Consultancy Services team.

How did you get into your role and what are your roots in construction and development?

I have worked in various private and public sector procurement roles for over 20 years, including manufacturing, retail, charity and most latterly in the housing sector. I joined Chester & District Housing Trust in 2007 as Purchasing and Performance Manager. They joined Sanctuary in 2013, where my role was national Contracts Manager. I managed the materials supply chain and its key suppliers within the property division, Sanctuary Maintenance.

I took the opportunity when the role came up, to join the Construction Consultancy team a couple of years ago; a few months before the first covid-19 lock down. The team identified that more could be done to improve our supply chain, obtain product quality, consistency and value for money. It was a natural step change to join the team and a take on a different set of challenges.

One of the main focuses of the role is on product specifications for standard house types. As part of the technical and design review process, supply chain partners are identified, and products are selected and evaluated for suitability across our tenures.

What is the biggest draw or benefit to women of working in the construction and development world?

There are many benefits and opportunities for all individuals working within construction and development. This industry is always on the political agenda and faces ongoing challenges. This results in continually trying to keep up with changes such as legislation, environmental impacts, issues on material and labour shortages etc, to complete our homes. By having a wide range of skill sets, shared ideas and experiences in the team, it assists with achieving a successful outcome.

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction and development?

Go for it! Construction and development can be misconceived - it’s not just about the onsite construction side that you see. There is a tremendous amount of work that happens in the background that supports the building of new homes and its after-care. Roles within this industry are vast and require various knowledge, skills and experiences which all add value to the team.

There are lots of careers available and many talented women working successfully in this industry. Don’t feel that you cannot pursue a career in construction and development, as the opportunities are endless. Be confident, be you!

 

A picture of Sarah

What is your current role?

I am currently Head of Development (South) at Sanctuary, and my team deals with new build developments in the East, South East and London.

How did you get into your role and what are your roots in construction and development?

My background is in Geology and, following my degree at Bristol University, I worked for a couple of years as a Geotechnical Engineer, undertaking site investigations, writing contamination reports, and designing foundations for new build construction sites.  I enjoyed the role but I was very keen to work for a charity with social purpose.  By chance I saw Hereward Housing’s advert for a Trainee Development Officer based in Ely.  I started working at Hereward in 2004, they then joined Sanctuary Group in 2005 and I have been working in Sanctuary’s Development Team since. 

What is the biggest draw or benefit to women of working in the construction and development world?

Historically, women have been underrepresented in construction and development. Over recent years this has improved, but there is still a way to go. I strongly believe that the best results come from including input from a wide cross section of the community.  Within development most projects bring with them a series of problems that need resolving.  A diverse workforce, which includes women, leads to contribution of more and improved approaches/ideas and experiences ultimately leading to a superior project outcome.

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction and development?

If I were to give advice to any women thinking about a role in construction and development I would say:

  • There are so many different roles to consider, don’t be put off by the misconception that men are better suited to undertake them.
  • Question things, be confident in your own opinion and unafraid to challenge if you don’t agree.
  • Support other women, share ideas and experiences.
  • Don’t feel you need to change who you are to do your job well.  You may find that your approach is considered a ‘breath of fresh air’ in some instances.

 

Who do you work for and what is your current role?

I work for Sanctuary and my role is a Design Manager

How did you get into your role and what drew you to working in construction?

I started my career as an apprentice Architectural Technician over 30 years ago, where I excelled in drawing up house plans and undertaking the thermal and structural calculations as required for Building Regulations at that time.

I’ve always been a fan of Architecture since I was a child and used to build houses out of cardboard boxes, so this seemed to be an ideal career choice.  I had never really considered that I was entering a predominately male-orientated industry until I started College in a class of 3 women and over 30 men!

As I enjoyed the technical side of construction, I decided to go into engineering design; steel frames, roads and drainage, whilst studying for a degree in Construction Management part time. This opened up a variety of opportunities for me and I’ve since worked as a Design Manager, Site Manager and as an Asset/Maintenance Manager within civil engineering, social housing and education sectors, which has led to working on some fantastic projects over the years!

What do you like most about it?

The most rewarding aspect is being involved in creating a building, someone’s home, a permanent part of the built environment, and getting to see the development from its inception through to completion. 

Every day is different – you can be working at your desk one day and climbing scaffold on site to inspect roof vents the next. 

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction?

The Construction Industry is not all about digging holes and driving diggers (although I have operated a 22 ton excavator!).

There are so many varied roles and opportunities available for women including apprenticeships and graduate placements. 

You also don’t need to pretend to be ‘one of the lads’ – there are currently more female Architects, Structural Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and Site Managers, not to mention tradeswomen than ever before, however there is still a skills shortage within the industry which can only be met by a more diverse workforce.

Alice Patchett wearing protective gear

Who do you work for and what is your current role?

I work for Sanctuary and my role is Assistant Development Manager in the Land and Planning team.

How did you get into your role and what drew you to working in construction?

I started as a Graduate Trainee at Sanctuary and worked across a range of different business areas before deciding to progress my career in the Group’s development and construction team.  The industry appealed to me because developing new housing is a very tangible goal which I find motivating and rewarding when the product is finished. It’s not just about high quality housing – I enjoy the process of ensuring that new homes are complemented by well-designed landscaping and facilities that can be enjoyed by the community.

What do you like most about it?

The variety of work is the best element. Every site I work on is different – whether in geographical location, mix of housing, technical constraints, or stage in the construction process. A day’s work could include meeting an ecological consultant on site to survey the nearby pond, to a call with a solicitor to negotiate a new building contract. 

On a national scale, housing and construction have been high up on the political agenda for a long time. As a result, there are always new elements of relevant planning policy, building regulations or government funding to get your head around.

The variety means that there’s always new challenges to face and overcome, and that I never stop learning.

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction?

If you have an interest in the industry, go for it! There is such a wide range of roles that there will be a team where your knowledge, skills and experience are highly valued.

When I started in the industry as a female in my early 20s, I was sometimes intimidated by both the gender and age imbalance I faced in meetings and on site. However, I soon learned that my contributions to the team were equally as valuable and my confidence grew.

The number of women in development and construction is growing, and I have worked alongside many highly talented women who have guided, trained and motivated me in my career to date. However, there is still a misconception that jobs in the industry are ‘better suited’ to men. Don’t ever feel you can’t pursue the career you want because of your gender! 

Kirsty at one of our construction sites

Who do you work for and what is your current role?

I work for Sanctuary as an Assistant Development Manager. The role sees us looking after new-build home sites that Sanctuary develop in England and Scotland, working alongside construction and architect teams to get new homes built ready for customers.

How did you get into your role and what drew you to working in construction?

As a child I was interested in architecture, old historic buildings and sketching them. I used to love exploring old ruins on holiday’s in the Scottish Highlands and learning about their history, which was one of the reason’s I chose to do a degree in Town Planning after leaving High School.

I struggled to gain a job in Planning after leaving University following the recession, so I decided to try a different route and worked in Roads Maintenance for my local council in Scotland. From there I moved down to Essex to another council.

I then decided to swap my Local Government knowledge and experience and moved to one of the Private Housing Developer’s as an Assistant Design Engineer. Here I used my Local Government skills to help push through legal agreements and gain access to sites…it helped improve my knowledge and experience working on building large scale development.

From here I then saw the opportunity to move across to work in Development at Sanctuary.

What do you like most about it?

The best aspect of my job is watching the whole project come to life from designs on paper to the finished construction of a development but also knowing that you have helped to create and develop someone’s dream home.

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction?

Construction is not all about heavy manual labour, there is a lot of work that goes on in the background before the ‘actual’ construction on a site begins all the way through to completion.

Working in the Construction Industry can give you the option to try out many difference aspects through apprenticeships or Graduate schemes so you can see what different roles are.

It is also a great Industry to network and build relationships with lots of different companies and people from all walks of life.

 

Vicky wearing full Sanctuary PPE

Who do you work for and what is your current role?

I work for Sanctuary as an Assistant Development Manager.

How did you get into your role and what drew you to working in construction?

When I was a child, my Dad saved up coupons from the back of Corn Flakes boxes and sent off for a model village set. When it finally arrived, it kept me busy for hours; I remember setting up the houses in different layouts and driving little vehicles (also free thanks to Kellogg’s) around it.

When I finished my A Levels, I had no idea what I wanted to do but at a university open event I found it difficult to walk past the built environment stalls. I eventually opted for a course in Town Planning which I absolutely loved, and I went on to do the post graduate diploma so I could qualify for membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

My first job was as an Assistant Planner in Local Council, followed by a long career working in Local Planning specialising in housing delivery, regeneration and infrastructure.

After 16 years, it was time for a change and the opportunity at Sanctuary seemed an ideal way to learn more about house building and apply my Planning expertise in a different context. The timing of my arrival could have been better – I started at the beginning of March 2020! Despite coming into the role at the start of the pandemic I have already undertaken a huge variety of work and my colleagues have made me feel very welcome.

What do you like most about it?

It is wonderful to think that I have left a permanent change (hopefully for the better!) to the physical environment.

I have worked on the regeneration of parks and green spaces where the improvements are obvious to see. But seemingly much smaller changes can have just as big an impact, for example creating a house with a more user friendly layout will make every day easier for occupants.

Any tips for other women thinking about a role in construction?

In my experience, construction is more male dominated than Town Planning; the latter is fairly evenly balanced, but whichever part of the industry you are considering, and the opportunities are extremely wide ranging, we must remember that we are creating places for everyone.

This can only happen successfully if people with different experiences contribute to the development of the places that we all use.

For more information on our MORE! programme please visit our dedicated section here.

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