Financial News

  • 9 June 2014, 11:09

White Van Woman 'Held Back By Sexism'

Campaigners are calling for more help to encourage women to enter traditionally male professions, including plumbing, building and plastering.

Despite headlines about the rise of the so-called white van woman and claims a record number of females are working in the trades, industry experts say the proportion is still worryingly low.

According to Women and Manual Trades, a national organisation which offers support to women, only around 1% of people in skilled trade occupations are female.

Campaigners say part of the problem is sexist abuse still suffered by some women working in male-dominated professions.

Hattie Hasan set up Stopcocks, an all-woman plumbing company, after working in the profession for more than two decades.

She says sexist attitudes are still a problem.

"Unfortunately even after my own 25 years in plumbing things haven't changed much ... girls are still not encouraged to get into the trades.

"Firstly they're not encouraged at school. When I was at school, I just wanted the boys to fancy me, I didn't want to be a plumber and I think that's the pressure for most girls.

"The second thing is that there are not enough role models. The more female plumbers there are the more there will be because the more people see us the more they'll realise it is a possibility for them.

"There are a lot of things that people say women can't do such as carrying heavy things but health and safety rules mean even if you're a bloke you still can't carry over a certain amount of weight.

"Also I think people seem to forget that women carry babies ... and women do that on a regular basis so I don't think there are barriers where heavy things are concerned."

She added: "The barriers for women are that once women have trained where do they go? The opportunities for getting employment in plumbing are not as widespread as they used to be.

"It's difficult for lads coming out, but it's even more difficult for girls, so really the only route for them is self-employment."

However, there are signs things may improve in the future.

Training centres where construction skills are taught report an increase in the number of women enrolling.

At Access Training in South Wales, women account for one in 10 of those signing up for courses including plastering, plumbing and electrics.

Mary Henderson quit her office job to retrain as a plumber, saying she was fed up being patronised by workmen she had hired.

"I feel like it's a useful thing to have a trade in this competitive, career-driven industry - it just made sense.

"I used to work in admin, from when I left school, and basically I had a lot of trouble with my own bathroom ... I wanted to do something more practical so plumbing just seemed to pop out at me."

She believes there should be more encouragement for women to get into the trades.

"I don't think practical things are pushed at children leaving education. It's not gender specific, it's just something that boys tend to fall into whereas girls are pushed into the first job that comes and then it just rolls into admin.

"I think there should be more focus on school leavers. I think it's a really good thing to have a trade and it should be suggested to students because exams are forced on them and teachers can't afford to have an interest in what they do after that."

Although she is in a minority, Ms Henderson says she is content being a woman in a man's world.

"There is slight banter and it's a little less PC than what you find in an office, but to be honest I find that refreshing rather than threatening."

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