Much more needs to be done to reassure women that careers in construction are open to them - Claire Saunders

I am from the generation of ‘women can have it all’. I left university a fresh-faced young woman steadfast in my belief that I could take on the World and do anything that my male counterparts could.

I still believe this to be true; I am a highly regarded solicitor and my ability to provide my clients with sound legal and commercial advice isn’t affected by my gender. However, I look back at the fresh-faced young woman that left university and I smile at her naivety.

From day one of my training contract with Hawkswell Kilvington, I have worked for main contractors, sub-contractors, developers, architects, employer’s agents; essentially every party who could be involved in a commercial construction project.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Despite working for such a wide array of companies, all of whom had different origins, from family businesses to multi-national, publicly traded corporations, during the early years of my career, I cannot remember ever receiving instructions from a woman.

The Prince of Wales talks with workers from across the construction industry. PIC: Justin Tallis/PA WireThe Prince of Wales talks with workers from across the construction industry. PIC: Justin Tallis/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales talks with workers from across the construction industry. PIC: Justin Tallis/PA Wire

Further, there were definitely some clients who, having instructed a well-regarded and specialist firm of construction and engineering solicitors, were visibly disappointed to have me, a young woman, leading their case. On one particularly memorable occasion, when attending a client meeting, I was asked ‘What on earth are you doing here?’, whilst the individual in question looked over my shoulder searching for my male (and more junior) colleague.

In my personal experience, rather than outward malice, the attitudes of many appeared to come from a ‘blindness’ within the construction industry as to what women could offer.

Fortunately, things are changing. Over the last few years, there appears to have been a seismic shift in the attitudes of many. Whilst this change is often attributed to a general move away from gender stereotypes in society, I think it is also due to the proactive work undertaken by key people and companies within the industry, actively encouraging applications from women at every level. The herculean effort to encourage young women to explore careers in construction cannot be dismissed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It is also the result of a number of highly skilled women taking on leading roles at large construction companies, not only paving the way for the women who walk behind them, but also showing many women that there are sustainable and enjoyable careers in construction that will not be hampered by a metaphorical glass ceiling.

My own personal experience at Hawkswell Kilvington shows the positive results of embracing and acknowledging the strength and skill set in a company’s female workforce. When I joined Hawkswell Kilvington as a trainee solicitor in 2011, there were only two other female fee earners in the firm: another trainee and a solicitor. As I sit in the office today, Hawkswell Kilvington boasts of a female partner, legal directors, associates, solicitors and trainees; women are represented at every level of the firm and, more importantly, we are all thriving.

However, there is, undoubtedly, still work to do. After all, Construction News recently reported that only 16 per cent of senior positions within construction firms are held by women. There will, inevitably, be disagreements as to how best to further open up career opportunities within the construction industry to women. For what it is worth, in my opinion, we need to continue to highlight to young women that there is a place for them to build a long term and successful career; whether on site, reviewing a construction contract, handling a dispute, or representing a company in the boardroom.

Claire Saunders is a legal director at Hawkswell Kilvington.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.