Actis regional sales director and Women in Construction ambassador Jemma Harris has been inspiring young women to reject stereotypes and follow their dreams of a career in a male-dominated profession.
Jemma, who is responsible for sales growth in the UK Northern region, was speaking to year 11 students at a school in Hull, and shared her own career path working in two very traditionally ‘macho’ environments – the Royal Navy, where she worked as a weapons engineer, and construction.
She talked about the additional obstacles she, along with many women, faced to get to the top of the career tree – with advice on how to overcome them.
She added that a depressing Gender Gap Index report report stated that it would take 108 years for society to close the global gender gap.
She told them: “It sounds pretty boring selling insulation, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that. You get involved with the whole design and build process in construction and the eco side of things – saving the planet.
“However, I have had to put the hard work in and overcome many obstacles, particularly as a woman in the industry that I currently work in and during my service in the Royal Navy.
“I had to work that bit harder than the boys, particularly on board a ship. I was promoted later than others because I was a girl. I was overlooked for certain positions. These obstacles didn’t deter me from my goals. They made me more determined to succeed and prove myself to be just as good.”
Her naval career also saw her receiving a medal for her role in the Gulf War, play football and win a physical fitness award.
The talk inspired the young women to rethink their pre-conceived notions of the world of work, with 87.5% of them interested in pursuing a career in sales or business, as a result of what Jemma told them.
Responses included: “Jemma’s talk gave us a chance to show young women that they can do anything that they actually want to do and that they don’t have to do the stereotypical ‘girl jobs’ and that girls are just as good as boys and that everything should be equal.”
Another attendee said: “It helped open young minds that they shouldn’t listen to people who tell them that they can’t so something because they are a girl and that this is a ‘guy job.'”Jemma added: “Diversity and inclusion are always something industries should strive for. I’d like to think that, along with other women in the industry, we are making an impact and difference in inspiring the next female generation to get involved in construction.”