Date: 08/03/2022

When thinking of an industry dominated by men, construction might be one of the first that comes to mind. According to Go Construct, women make up around 14% of construction industry professionals.

Despite the stereotypes there are women working in typically male roles who are breaking the bias, like Fortem’s Health & Safety Manager, Mel Simon. In honour of International Women’s Day on 8th March, she shares her story.

Refurbishment enhances homes in Chesterfield

Mel heads up Fortem’s SHEC team

“The whole time I was on that project, there were six to seven Health & Safety Managers who came and went, but I was the only consistent team member who had been there from the beginning. It was a huge challenge, but I loved it. That’s where I first thought a career in Health and Safety could be for me.”

Mel graduated from the scheme in 2012 as a SHE advisor, gaining more experience in health and safety, voids and compliance over the years before being promoted to National SHE Manager in 2020.

The devil is in the details

Looking back at her past experiences, particularly working on site, Mel recalls how it’s the little things that often get overlooked which would make the biggest difference, “Even things like welfare on site is an issue. Wherever you go, the women’s toilet must be locked not to be used. Keys have to be requested because if left open, they will be used and won’t be clean. We’re already putting women off with this kind of environment.”

Inspiring the next generation

When appealing to young people, you can’t underestimate the importance of representation. Mel explains, “I’m fortunate enough to have been well supported at Fortem, there have been many male managers or directors who have guided me through my career. But for women and girls new to the industry, it’s not enough.”

“We need to see women in leadership roles, so girls can look up to them and see something familiar, something aspirational.”

Mel also believes more knowledge needs to shared with school age children to break the unconscious bias around what roles are ‘for’ women. “There needs to be discussions on construction careers in schools so girls can seriously consider it for their future career. When I was at school, I didn’t even know about health and safety in construction, let alone the option to have a career as a SHE manager in construction. We have a responsibility to ‘normalise’ these career paths for women.”

“At Fortem, we offer work experience places to young girls and provide female mentors to discuss their journey so they can see that if her mentor did it, she can do it too. This needs to be the case for all businesses in the sector.”

Words of wisdom

What are Mel’s words of wisdom for women wanting to start a career in the construction industry? “Just do it! It’s a fear of the unknown, but just fear holds you back. I’m working in the Health and Safety field, which is extremely male dominated, heading up a team of all men. You will come across hurdles, there are times where you’ll have to be assertive and make sure your voice is heard, but be confident in yourself and in your knowledge. I promise it is worth it.”