Meet the women who are proving that construction is not just a man’s world

Published:  08 March, 2019

On International Women’s Day, Rebecca Palmer, who heads the construction department at solicitors Prettys, is keen to spread her message that the world of construction doesn’t have to be a male-dominated one.

Palmer, 42, has dealt with legal issues in the industry for more than 13 years.

“It is very difficult to demonstrate to girls that construction is a viable option for them when they are simply unaware of the variety of opportunities open to them in this field,” she said.

“But when you scratch below the surface there are actually a whole host of engaging and rewarding careers for women in this industry.”

As a lawyer regularly meeting industry bosses, Palmer says she frequently finds herself to be the only woman in the room. “When we are talking about senior positions within construction, women are few and far between.”

However, she does see more women involved in specific roles within surveying, architecture, project management and design. And she is passionate about construction being a rewarding area of the law.

“I chose it because it’s different to all other areas of law; the output is so positive and tangible,” she said.

“You are working together, in multi-disciplinary teams, towards the common goal of creating something physical with a broader purpose, typically contributing to the formation of a new workplace, school, home, museum, energy provider or others - the list is endless! It is something palpable and for me it has real meaning.

“I would encourage anybody, irrespective of gender, to consider construction as a career – with such a variety of roles there is something to suit every personality type and temperament, plus the benefit of a perceptible lasting legacy.”

Statistics released this month reveal that women make up only 14% of the workforce in the construction industry, with 2% working as onsite operatives.*

Palmer, a mother-of-two, urged schools to take a leading role in encouraging girls to take up careers in construction.

And she called on the industry to continue to build on its progress in offering workers flexible working hours wherever possible.

“A significant proportion of roles within construction offer particular challenges in accommodating the constraints of active family life, whether they be school timings or other key family commitments.

“Whilst so many women within our families are the ‘project managers’ at home, the display by women of all these strengths and aptitudes is nowhere near as evident across construction even though there are so many skills transferable from the one context to the other.”

Palmer and her team are experts in all areas of construction law, embedded within a real estate offering at Prettys comprised of specialisms covering the full life-cycle of a property, including planning, commercial property and property disputes.

Palmer has also worked alongside women who are flourishing in construction careers, including quantity surveyor Laura Collins, 30, who was recently named ‘Young Surveyor of the Year’ at the RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year Awards.

With more than 13 years’ experience, Collins is currently working towards her Partner and Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors status and is keen to encourage other women to follow in her footsteps.

“There are so many jobs and roles out there for women, but the problem is that people are simply not aware of them,” said Collins.

“At school level we need to promote the wide range of opportunities that are available in the industry. How many teenagers in school today will know what a quantity surveyor is? I certainly didn’t! Hopefully this will help to address the gender imbalance in the talent pool.

“I also think the industry needs to promote a better balance between work and home life. I take my family life very seriously and as well as being a quantity surveyor I’m a mum, wife, daughter and sister and I take each job very seriously. We need to demonstrate that it’s an equal partnership and okay to have time at home and not be in the office.

“I would also advise people to not be afraid of challenging the norm, don’t be scared to ask questions and never apologise for wanting to succeed.”

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