Revealed – what it’s like to be a woman in construction
Suzanne Luscombe, female director of sales and marketing at housing association Notting Hill Genesis, began her property career 19 years ago, and has worked for a number of well-known developers.
She explains: “I have been in the property sector for as long as I can remember, doing all sorts of roles. I love everything that housing associations are able to offer the community and am delighted to have utilised my 11 years of private sector experience focusing on the customer journey.”
The 36-year-old joined Notting Hill Genesis in 2019 as the head of sales and quickly transitioned to the director of sales and marketing, covering everything from private sales to shared ownership, which she describes as busy, but great fun.
“I was always going to have a career in property sales, that has been my passion,” she adds. “But in particular, I wanted to sell people their dream. In my job I get to help people onto the property ladder whether that’s a personal purchase or an investment – it’s extremely rewarding.”
With her family in the property business, Luscombe grew up surrounded by the industry. Her passion for selling property took flight after she achieved well above asking price for her grandfather’s home that her family inherited.
Although she doesn’t have any formal qualifications in the property field, Luscombe explains how studying business and IT GNVQ’s helped her to understand profit and loss as well as making margins on things, which set her up well.
“I started my career at an estate agency and within three months I ended up in Land and New Homes which gave me the insight into making surplus on units, build costs and the construction process. Because of this I know the industry inside out, I don’t regret not going to university or achieving official qualifications in the field. For young adults thinking of starting a career in property, there are many routes to choose from, apprenticeships are a fantastic way to learn on the job.”
Discussing her experience of being a woman in construction, Luscombe reveals that at the beginning her career, construction was very much a man’s world.
“The industry has changed massively since I began my career, specifically over the last five years. I always joked that I was in a man’s world! I was very young when I began working in sales, at that time the men were seen as builders and sales was very much a female role. I quickly learnt to assert myself and make sure I spoke up in meetings, I was very much overlooked in some of the bigger meetings I had to attend and that was very disheartening.”
“When I went onto site during the early stages of my career everyone would stare as though they’d never seen a woman before! Thankfully, this has changed a lot in recent years. I worked for one housebuilder who had a policy that everyone was equal, if any comments were made about women being on site the person involved would be disciplined, this was a great step forward in achieving equality in the industry.”
For Luscombe, being a woman in construction has been a challenge at times. She explains: “Being a woman was a disadvantage in construction, the men in the industry didn’t want to help me learn or grow my career. Now, I have proved myself and am respected by men, it has taken a long time. I had some great female role models and mentors in the industry, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Discussing how construction could be better promoted to young girls, Suzanne concludes: “I would definitely recommend the house building industry to young women and girls. It has the biggest set of wings you can imagine. From mansions to flats, the variety of different tenures, planning and sales or after care there is so much to get involved with. Promotion around careers in construction needs to be better, it’s not just building and house sales.”
“There’s so much more involved, if people understood the conveyance process, housing associations and the vast variety of the industry I think there would be more interest from young women. As a whole, there is still progress to made, but it’s not so much a man’s world anymore.”
Harnessing female talent for 2021 and beyond
Annabel Le Lohe, a senior planner for housebuilder Storey Homes, discusses how the industry is and her experience in construction.
The 25-year-old explains how her education aided her in her chosen occupation. “I’ve always shown a keen interest in how villages, towns and cities expand and meet people’s needs. From 2013-2016, I studied Human Geography at Sheffield Hallam University, before going on to do a Master’s specifically in planning.”
“With Geography, you learn how populations interact with their surroundings, how a location caters for the daily needs of its inhabitants, as well as the ways in which we can protect and enhance the environment. Applying these concepts to something like planning seemed like a very natural transition for me. My job could best be described as balancing the need for homes, infrastructure and green space.”
After completing her Master’s, Le Lohe worked in planning for a consultancy and then joined Storey Homes in January 2020 to learn more about the different aspects of construction.
Speaking on how the industry is changing towards women, Le Lohe comments: “I’ve been lucky in the respect that I haven’t had many hurdles to overcome as a woman in this industry. In the past, I have had to deal with preconceptions though. Being the only young female in a room filled with men has given way to some stereotyping, and it has come as a surprise to the attendees that I am there to offer expert advice, rather than as someone’s assistant.”
“Since joining the industry, however, I have seen significant changes, and dealing with these assumptions is no longer a frequent problem I experience. Whilst I appreciate that the property and construction industry is still somewhat male-dominated, it is definitely working hard to achieve more of a balance between genders.”
She continues: “There are some really strong female-led communities within the field itself, such as the ‘Women in Construction’ group; a not-for-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in construction, as well as the ‘Women in Planning’ group, which I’ve been part of on a regional and national level. The key aim for the Women in Planning group is to mentor and empower women, as well as cover various topics – such as female-led architectural projects, and how they differ from intrinsically ‘male’ designs.”
“We hope that this will help map women’s career pathways, as well as provide them with inspirational female leaders to look up to. We’re encouraging men to involve themselves in these groups, and many have taken that important step. We also hope to expand and target schools and colleges to help encourage young girls to consider construction, property and planning as a career.”
When asked how and why young women should consider construction and property as a career, Le Lohe says there is certainly a place for women in construction.
“My advice to young women who are interested in the industry would be that there are so many different areas that contribute towards a project from conception to delivery; including site management, planning, technical, and community engagement – and there is a tangible sense of accomplishment when you look at something and realise you were integral to its creation.”
“Being a female in this industry comes with some significant advantages. I think women offer an alternative, or, perhaps, additional perspective to a building project and place-making, which I think is essential when creating homes that cater for the needs of today. In any industry, there is room for men and women to work alongside each other and try to understand the other’s needs. Each can bring something different, but equally important to the table, and construction is no exception.”
From receptionist to customer services administrator
Sophie Marks, a female employee at luxury homebuilder Millwood Designer Homes, offers her advice for women looking to pursue a career in construction.
The 23-year-old joined Millwood in October 2019 as a receptionist, before being promoted to a customer services administrator. She comments: “After finishing a history degree, I started working for Millwood as a receptionist, before being moved into customer service last year. I love being the first port of call for customers when they need answers to queries; it’s a very personable job, and I’m enjoying doing something I never thought I would be doing when I first joined Millwood!”
“As a receptionist, you don’t necessarily need to know much about the construction industry whereas in this role, I need to be able to respond to homeowners straight away with answers. This has meant I’ve had to learn a lot about the technical process of housebuilding, and that has really sparked my interest in a career in the industry.”
Marks says although more women are getting involved in the housebuilding industry, it is still a male-dominated sector.
“I feel that women bring a different way of looking at things, especially to the design process, and they may think of including certain features in a home that are different to a male point of view. There are so many different pathways into construction and so many different roles within it, you don’t just necessarily have to work on site building the houses.”
She adds: “I think more needs to be done to teach girls that construction is a great career path for both men and women; I went to an all-girls grammar school, and there wasn’t any mention of construction as a potential career. Girls should be encouraged that housebuilding is a really interesting profession with lots of different opportunities; just because typically boys have gone into it, it doesn’t mean that they can’t too.”
“It’s so important in all areas that women get the same opportunities as men, and that girls are told about careers that are typically male-driven. I didn’t even consider going into construction until I got this job, and now I am really interested in it.”
She concludes: “Millwood is a fantastic company to work for as it has a really diverse workforce, and women are just as respected as men both on site and in the head office – we even have a female project manager, something which is very rare in this industry. I’m really looking forward to growing more with the company and continuing to learn about construction, and the process of building our homes.”
This post has originally been featured in Property Investor Today.