You’re probably about as likely to come across a female plumber as you are of being able to sit in the pub with your mates for a pint over the next couple of months (wishful thinking). To be exact, fewer than 1 in 100 heating installers are predicted to be women – data from 2019 found that 0.6% of registered gas engineers were female. We’d put money on that figure not having changed much over the past couple of years.
We’ll start by saying that we know that gender is only one aspect of diversity that needs addressing in the sector, and we’re not trying to wash over other elements such as age, ethnicity, neurodiversity and ability. However, being a team of predominantly women (not to forget a couple of brilliant men!) running the Heating Installer Awards, we think it’s a good place to start. So, we did some digging and had a chat to a few people in the industry about how we can start readdressing the balance.
Why is gender diversity such a challenge?
First things first: why the challenge?
There are loads of reasons gender balance is so off in the sector, starting with traditional gender stereotypes and biases still being prominent in society at large – albeit with significant improvements made over the past couple of decades. Popular culture has traditionally, and still does, play a huge part here by conditioning us to believe there’s a ‘norm’ when it comes to the sorts of roles we think we ‘should’ be going into.
In some cases, this can also transfer over into education and the careers advice young people are getting. That’s not to knock schools and colleges, as some of them are doing some brilliant work to change this, but we’re still not quite there when it comes to education professionals pointing enough females down the path of becoming a tradesperson.
Another one to add to this list is the unsocial hours that often come with being on the tools, meaning that it simply isn’t appropriate for some women. That said, being a self-employed installer can mean benefitting from flexible hours in many cases, so those wanting flexibility shouldn’t rule it out.
Who’s working to change things?
Thankfully, there are lots of great groups and organisations working hard to promote opportunities and encourage more females to consider a role in the sector – some of which we’ve covered below.
Stopcocks Women Plumbers are doing a great job of making waves here. Their annual Women Installers Together conference is growing each year, with founder Hattie Hasan MBE saying last year: “We’re really delighted the event is growing every year. With the average age of plumbers 57.5, the workforce is going to reduce drastically in a few years. Women are very keen to come into it. This needs to be encouraged by all sectors of the industry by showing them how welcome they are. We sincerely believe that the changes that will attract more women will also attract more men into heating and plumbing; that’s good for everyone.”
We’re also really impressed with Stopcock’s latest initiative – the National Register of Tradeswomen, set to launch in March. The aim of the register is to ensure that people who feel more comfortable using female tradespeople are able to find them easily. We reckon this sort of initiative will help the sector become more appealing to women, by showing that being a tradesperson is a viable career path for those wanting to take it.
The media + social media
Parts of the media are also playing a big part in getting messages around gender balance and diversity out to the masses. For example, trade publications Installer, HPV magazine and PHPI are just some of those putting out good content that openly encourages discussion around the topic.
We also thought it was quickly worth mentioning the part social media now has to play in promoting the stories of a more diverse set of tradespeople. For example, EKRB Developments – or @plasteredsisters as they’re known on Instagram – are a sister-in-law duo that spent their maternity leaves learning how to plaster. They’ve since been spreading the positive message of female trades to over 15,000 followers. We hope that this will be a platform that does more for encouraging diversity in the sector moving forward!
As we said earlier, education might not be quite where we want it to be when it comes to inclusively promoting trade-focused roles, however, apprenticeships are certainly making roles more recognised and accessible.
On the Tools put out a great video last week as part of National Apprenticeship Week, discussing the viability of apprenticeships in the trade sector. Apprentice bricklayer, Beth, took part in the video to discuss her apprenticeship. One of the things she mentioned was that there isn’t enough support in general for people that want to get into trades, due to a lack of information, so more support is needed here. We hope to see more stories coming from female trade apprentices moving forward, so young women have female role models to look up to and learn from.
Case study: Laura’s story
Our partner Danfoss also invited us to chat to Laura, one of its graduate area sales managers, as part of this piece. While Laura isn’t an installer, she is breaking down boundaries and excelling in a traditionally male-dominated sector. As part of her role, she chats with thousands of installers in Danfoss’ merchants across Scotland, and her experience echoes the stats we shared earlier – Laura reckons that less than 1% of the installers she deals with are females.
That’s not to say she finds the sector unwelcoming – quite the opposite in fact. While she says the sector is viewed as more male dominated, she’s not had any issues and loves her role. Laura told me that females can sometimes be put off, as it can sometimes feel like a ‘boys’ game’. Yet, she’s always felt really welcomed. She was also quick to comment that a lot the installers she chats to genuinely are keen to have more women in the sector.
When we asked for her advice for other females thinking about entering the sector, she said ‘jump in, be yourself and have confidence; hold your own and don’t feel that you need to change to try and fit in’. We salute that!
Women installers: we need you!
We wanted to end this blog by saying that us writing this is by no means a dig at the males working in the sector – we speak to hundreds of you each year for the awards, and hugely value your contributions to a sector we’re so passionate about! We’re all about getting the conversation going and working together to make the sector accessible to all – regardless of gender, age, race or ability.
Do you have experience working as a female in the sector, or know someone that does? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line on Twitter @HIAwards.