“As the only woman on a construction site, I was confused with the receptionist – now I run my own construction company”


When Liz Hartley started her career as a construction project manager, she was mistaken for a receptionist when she entered a 120-man construction site.

She felt that as a woman, she had to go the extra mile to prove herself in the industry alongside her male peers.

Against all odds, the 40-year-old, who lives in Heaton Moor, went on to set up her own business and is now managing director.

READ MORE: ‘I left school with three GCSEs – now I run multi-million pound businesses’

“In my first job, people assumed I was a receptionist. Back then, the only women were cleaners or receptionists,” Liz said.

“There were absolutely no women on site or in the business and very few on the board side.”

She added: “It just wasn’t made for women, which sounds ridiculous, but in 2007, there were no welfare institutions for women, that’s only in recent years. that you were able to get women size protective clothing, it was just for men before.

Speaking on this International Women’s Day, the theme of which, ‘Breaking Prejudice’ encourages people to challenge stereotypes, Liz recounted how she overcompensated early in her career to earn respect by working in a dominated environment. by men.

This was at a time when the gender pay gap – the difference in the average hourly wage of all men and women in a workforce – was beginning to be called out.

Construction was one of the sectors with the largest pay gap, and since 2017 all large companies with more than 250 employees have been required to publish their gender pay gap report annually.

However, according to data compiled by Building in 2020, women still earn a quarter less than men in the UK’s largest construction companies.

Liz continued: “It was intimidating, especially when you’re just starting out. You had to hold on and I had to be tougher than I wanted to.

“You almost took on a different character to try and find your feet. You had to be voluntary.

“Interestingly the trade guys on site were really respectful, it was actually the upper management of the companies who really struggled to get a sense of the women who had any level of authority.

“It was a pretty old-school club – the big companies had huge gender pay gaps, where they had people doing the same job but the women were paid a lot less, and there were a lot less opportunities for women, you had to work your way up to the next step.

“That has changed now, but there is a huge way to go.”

Liz (right) at the Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management conference in Manchester

Liz entered the industry after working for an NHS Trust when she left university, which was undergoing building work at the time.

She realized that she liked being there, and within a year she moved into construction. As she rose through the ranks of an assistant project manager, she became a certified member of the building industry.

Then, two years ago, she set up her own construction management company in Manchester – Hive Projects – with two other colleagues.

It was important to her to have a gender-balanced workforce and to inspire the next generation of women.

“We’re a 50/50 split, which is important to us,” Liz said of her team.

“As a small business, we wanted to create an environment where people want to come and work for us. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be 50/50, why wouldn’t it be? proud This is the right solution for us.

“As a company, we go to schools and talk about the different careers in construction, telling girls from a young age that they can be builders if they want to, and look at these other great opportunities in construction. .”

One woman who has often been the only woman on construction sites is Nanette Heystek – senior civil engineer for Civic Engineers in Manchester.

Overall, she had a positive experience in her career working with supportive men who encouraged her growth.

Nanette civil engineer

However, she received strange sexist comments in previous jobs and sometimes felt intimidated, especially as a young engineer.

“There were occasional comments disguised as jokes,” she recalled.

“When you walk into a room and you’re the only woman, you notice it right away. When I started I noticed that, and as a junior you feel intimidated and start doubting yourself, but then it’s your team that plays a big part in cheering you on.

The 29-year-old, from South Africa, moved to Manchester for work in 2017. Growing up, she didn’t feel like anything was stopping her from pursuing a career in engineering.

Excelling in mathematics and science at school, she was encouraged by teachers and also by her father, who was already in the business as a mining engineer.

She also had a role model in her godmother, who was a structural engineer.

“My godmother is about 30 years my senior, so when she studied engineering, she must have really felt the weight of being a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Nanette said.

“I always remember she had a great sense of humor whenever she came to visit, and when the conversations got technical, often with my dad and her husband, everyone would shut up to listen. . I just thought it was really powerful.

She’s seen more women join the craft over her career

During Nanette’s degree and for the two companies she worked for after graduation, there was a visible gender imbalance, she says. But she has seen it improve lately.

“I’ve always been surrounded by really positive mentors, as long as you work hard it would be recognized,” she continued.

“Now that I’m older in hindsight, I’ve become more aware of the stigma, of the gender pay gap. It’s being slowly tackled and the gender imbalance is decreasing year by year.

“In my company, there is a 50/50 gender balance in the consulting environment. But for 12 months, I was there, and in addition to the administrative staff, I was the only female technical engineer.

“Towards the end, a female graduate joined the team. There are a lot more females coming into the industry now.”

Nanette is currently working on a project in Stretford, where she and her colleagues are transforming existing pavements into streets that will better serve the community.

She argues that a diverse team of both women and men is essential to producing groundbreaking work.

“In engineering, there’s a lot of collaboration and knowledge sharing,” Nanette added.

“The more people you bring to the table with different stories, it adds diversity to the team and encourages innovation.”

Liz agrees with the benefits of having a diverse workforce and she, too, sees it as an improvement.

“There is a huge labor shortage, why would anyone neglect 50% of the population who also have the right skills to do the job,” the business owner added.

“Companies come to this realization, they can’t afford to rule it out. The benefits of having a diverse workforce are on top of what you do.

“It’s getting better, it took longer than we would have liked, but when I look at where it was in 2007 and where we are, I enjoy going to a site and I begins to see women pass on the trade, women electricians.

“I would love to see the number increase and I think it will.”

For more information on International Women’s Day 2022, visit https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

Learn more about women breaking stereotypes: Meet the Welder Who Wasn’t Taken Seriously – Now She’s Building Mayfield Park’s Huge Playground

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