With figures estimating that women account for just 1% of workers on construction sites, it’s rare to find a female site manager running the show.
But they do exist. And they can bring real benefits to the working environment as illustrated by site manager Charlotte Hale of Neath based Hale Construction. Instead of keeping order by yelling (as might be stereotyped of a site manager…), her approach is different.
“I talk to people” she explains. “If someone isn’t working as well as usual, I’ll ask them if something is wrong instead of shouting”.
Yet Charlotte does add that the ability for a woman to shout is still a pre-requisite. “You do need to be strong. Construction sites can be dangerous places so if there’s a potential health and safety issue for example, you have to be stern.”
Although Charlotte hadn’t previously planned to join her family’s construction business, she helped out on site during her university holidays and found she loved it.
“I really enjoyed being in the thick of things. It suits my mind-set. When problems arise, although they’re construction based, I can see a way out of them through being innovative.”
Charlotte puts a lot of her approach down to her route in to the industry; through first doing a business degree. As well as learning how to problem solve, she also learnt a lot about how to manage people and get the best out of them.
For someone who didn’t initially plan to join the construction industry but is thriving within it, Charlotte offers an interesting perspective on why there are so few women doing jobs like hers.
“It’s not because women can’t do the job, or because there’s a lack of respect for them on site – I’ve not had any derogatory comments or problems like that. I think it’s due to how we’re brought up as children – boys have digger toys while girls don’t. It’s socialisation. I think things are changing as people find that it’s good to have women on site but the change definitely isn’t as quick as in other industries.”
This is definitely true. In fact the Office for National Statistics says that the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low that it is un-measurable.
Interestingly Charlotte’s brother, Graham Hale – who has also recently started working as a site manager for Hale – knew that he wanted to join the construction industry from an early age. He explains how he got into it:
“I started off by doing a plumbing apprenticeship before then going on to do site management qualifications. I think I’ve really benefited from having that trade background in terms of understanding what goes on site.”
Learning a trade first is the more traditional route into construction and is the one that Hale Construction’s Chairman, Jonathan Hale took. He started out as a carpenter before later setting up Hale Construction in 1996.
Considering the fact that both of Jonathan’s children are doing well as site managers despite their different routes into the industry, it’s not surprising that their shared background – time spent on site – is the key factor that Jonathan sees for a successful career in construction. He explains:
“People have started up construction companies coming from a completely different background, such as accountancy for example. But this approach can fail. You need to know the trade so that no one can fob you off!
Alongside that you do need a mixture of practical and people skills as it’s not the easiest of industries. But it is very rewarding when it all comes together and you build lovely homes for people, plus of course it’s great to have Charlotte and Graham on-board.”
Hale Construction employs more than 130 people and is part of a wider Hale Group, which includes private housing developer Hale Homes and eco-friendly joiner company Seven Oaks. The group has a turnover of over £30m and is set to expand further in 2017.