Meet the entrepreneur who laid bare what life is really like for females in construction and is now empowering women to challenge convention

From working on sites with violent ex-offenders to men who expose themselves or show female colleagues disturbing footage on their phones, Michelle Hands has witnessed the dark side of the construction sector.

While the founder of She Who Dares Wins said she genuinely loves the industry and that this behaviour doesn’t happen in every company, she warned of persistent toxic bravado within building industry.

"It’s an amazing industry and I think it has got better over the last five years,” she told The Yorkshire Post.

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“We’re seeing more women on site so I think recruitment has improved but culturally it still has a long way to go and it’s not changing.”

Michelle Hands, founder of She Who Dares Wins.Michelle Hands, founder of She Who Dares Wins.
Michelle Hands, founder of She Who Dares Wins.

"Some of the things that are said and done have existed for a very long time and businesses don’t seem to be stamping it out. I think it’s because construction is so busy, margins are so tight. The big companies say they’re doing things but don’t follow through.”

Ms Hands, 39, said she attends events where construction bosses talk about how much progress they are making regarding gender equality and recruiting more women into the industry.

She added: “At the end of the talks, women will often share the real story. They’ll tell me they were in the office last week when a male colleague walked in and expose himself.

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"It’s horrific and that’s not bad compared to some of the stories I’ve been told. These companies don’t want to see what’s happening and they’re not protecting women.”

Ms Hands, who now empowers women to challenge convention and celebrate their strengths through her community platform brand, began her career as a materials tester for landfill construction.

She remembers at how, at the age of 22, found herself alone on a site with a man who had been released from prison two days earlier after serving a sentence for manslaughter.

"I’ve got a sharp tongue and I always break people down with humour initially and I think that’s what has enabled me to survive the industry,” she said. “But not everyone’s got the confidence to do that.

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"I’ve had to use my gut instinct to pull myself out of certain situations where I think something could have happened.”

However, she added: “I say to most people I meet that these dark stories are 10 per cent of my career, otherwise I wouldn’t have lasted 17 years. I’ve met some incredible men who have been immensely supportive and good male allies.”

Ms Hands, who also trained in acting and filmmaking, started documenting her experiences as a woman on a construction site on YouTube.

When she became pregnant with her first child, she moved into office-based project management roles and started showcasing successful women in traditional male dominated industries through her podcast.

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She now works two days a week in construction and the rest of the week focuses on growing She Who Dares Wins, her content creation business based in Farsley, Leeds, that includes a website, podcast, mini documentaries and merchandise, which will be launched in the next few weeks.

She Who Dares Wins tells the stories of women who are forging their own path in life.

"I get to meet a lot of incredible women which is great because I get to learn from them and then share their stories with everyone else,” said Ms Hands.

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