We need more women in Construction | How unconventional career paths can help

woman painting a wall

by Sarah Atkins

The painting and decorating industry is often considered to be male-dominated, which is not surprising when just 4.8% of workers are women.

When taking a look at the construction industry as a whole women still make up a minority, so this perception is not far from the truth. In saying that, this has increased from the start of 2023 by 3% to 18.8%. Although only a small increase, it is a promising start. There’s a clear need to change the perception of the industry and encourage more people, particularly women, to join and accelerate these figures.

Today, we’re living in a world where women are more independent than ever before and are now employed at nearly the same rate as men in the UK. This is not the only major change to the workforce we have seen recently: careers are becoming more fluid. There has been a recent shift in the idea of the traditional career and career ladder. Dubbed as ‘squiggly careers’, the new normal career path sees people move lots and often between roles, industries, and even entire vocations.

This concept can really broaden your horizons and give the freedom to explore what suits you best and find what makes you happiest. As individuals, we are constantly changing so why shouldn’t our roles reflect that?

As the number of women are increasing in the UK construction industry, we need to make sure we are not only attracting them but retaining them as well. One way of doing this is by showcasing the opportunities it offers across the board. There are so many different pathways to follow within it, and an unconventional career route can allow women to discover where their passions and strengths lie. The growth and flexibility on offer forms part of the solution of helping more women to enter and stay in the sector.

Although I have always held roles in marketing and communications, I myself have progressed my career within various industries. From home shopping, financial services, and a food and drink wholesaler, I’ve had my own squiggly route to joining construction as part of Dulux Decorator Centre. At each turn, I’ve learnt something new which I’ve then been able to take on into the next role and, although not a straight path, they have all brought me to where I am today. I have also seen the potential that embracing ‘squiggly careers’ can offer businesses and actively encourage my team to think outside the box when it comes to their career path. As a result, some of them have moved to different functions or roles, and when this has happened both the individuals involved, and the wider business has reaped the benefits of these lateral moves.

The construction industry has a variety of roles and so offers a lot of flexibility when entering it as previous experience and existing strengths can be applied to a wide range of disciplines. After being pushed towards more typically ‘feminine’ careers, many women realise where their true passions lie mid-career and the possibilities the sector can offer.

There are a lot of inaccurate stereotypes and negative perceptions of the construction industry, however that could not be further from the truth. As one of the main contributors to UK GDP and the global economy, it is a vast industry with a variety of opportunities. From head office roles like my own, all the way to being on site, there is bound to be a role that suits your interests and career goals. The industry also offers the chance to train in a new trade which can lead to becoming a self-employed tradesperson and build your own business. This can be particularly empowering for women and provide independence and flexibility many other sectors do not.

I personally know from experience that painting and decorating is a hugely rewarding industry. There are endless opportunities, and with a growing skills gap there is a real urgency to attract more women to help protect its long-term viability.


About the author

Sarah Atkins

Sarah Atkins is an accomplished commercial leader with a track record of delivering turnover and profit growth in both marketing and commercial director roles.  Sarah’s career has spanned omni-channel multi-site retail and wholesale pointed to Trade businesses,  financial services, leisure and mail order; a breadth of experience enabling her to see successful commercial outcomes from both supplier and customer perspectives.

In her most recent role with AkzoNobel, Sarah heads up the commercial function at Dulux Decorator Centre and leads the team of marketeers, Category managers and estates and development teams. She has been a key member of a management team leading transformative change within the Dulux Decorator Centre business.

Throughout Sarah’s career she has consistently focused on improving performance by collaborating with colleagues to successfully develop and execute commercial plans, implement organisational change and create highly engaged and capable commercial teams.

Sarah graduated from Westminster University where she specialised in Economics. She has expertise in commercial management, divisional leadership, strategy development, wide e-commerce experience, high-performance team development, and developing multi-channel routes to market strategies and models. Sarah is an established retail specialist and has experience in change management leadership, growth, and deal and engagement leadership.

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