Despite accounting for more than 50% of the UK population, women make up just 11% of the country’s construction sector workforce. As the industry faces up to a growing skills shortage – with an estimated 22,000 new recruits needed to plug the gap by 2025 – it’s more important than ever for women to feel empowered and welcome in what is a dynamic and rewarding sector.
Sitting at the heart of the UK construction supply chain, MKM Building Supplies, the UK’s largest independent builders merchant, is uniquely placed to understand the challenges – and opportunities – facing women in the sector today. The business has a long-held commitment to promoting diversity within its ranks; the results of which can be seen everywhere from the boardroom to the warehouse.
Kate Tinsley was named CEO of MKM Building Supplies in 2020. With a stellar background in the construction sector, Kate’s appointment as CEO makes her one of the most influential people in the UK merchant sector.
“Initiatives such as Women in Construction week (06-13 March) are ‘vital’ for attracting more women to the sector. There’s a perception that the construction sector is completely male dominated, with lots of doors shut to women. Looking at the sector today, that – thankfully – just isn’t the case anymore, but there is still work to do!
At MKM, we are working hard to ensure that everyone is welcome and specifically with regards to women, that they are represented in all facets of the business. From my own role as CEO, via our Branch Directors and their teams, right across our central support functions – women make up a considerable proportion of our workforce and play a pivotal role in driving the business forward.
It’s no secret that the merchant sector has traditionally struggled to attract female employees, but I believe the work we’re doing at MKM is breaking down some outdated stereotypes. Take our branch network as an example. Many of our branches now have female branch directors and staff; important representation and visibility for young women looking to join what really is an incredible sector.”
One such director is Billie Hardy, who works at MKM’s Morpeth branch. Coming from a family with a strong background in construction, pursuing a career in the sector seemed like a no-brainer to a young Billie. Now overseeing a thriving branch, Billie has seen first-hand the massive changes the construction industry has taken in regards to female employees.
“Since I started in the building and construction industry some 14 years ago, the sector has changed dramatically for the better and continues to do so in a progressive way.
It’s a much more accepting sector for women nowadays, for a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s more and more women and diversity coming into the industry that is helping to push the industry as a whole forward. We also bring a slightly different skill set, thought process and ways to approach various commercial challenges, which is helping the sector progress through more ideas, shared learnings and enhanced processes.
Perhaps nowhere is that positive change better evidenced than at MKM’s Wallingford branch.
One of the newer additions to the MKM network, the Wallingford branch has women working in every aspect of the business – from the trade counter and kitchen and bathroom showroom to the yard – making it somewhat unique for a UK merchant.
Ashleigh Rogers works in in the yard at MKM Wallingford, helping to ensure orders are fulfilled and stock makes it out to site on time. A fully-qualified forklift truck operative, Ashley believes more young women should consider a career in the construction sector. She says:
“If I had one piece of advice for any woman looking to make the switch to construction, it would be – just do it! There’s nothing to stop you. One of the best things about my job is that I’m not treated any differently. It’s great to be part of such a hardworking team, who have fun too; I’m so glad I kick-started my career in construction here at MKM Wallingford.”
As MKM reflects on another Women in Construction week, what else can merchants be doing to attract women to the sector. Kate Tinsley says:
“It’s really important for businesses to promote a culture of inclusivity and positivity. The industry needs to keep working hard to address and overcome outdated stereotypes and really promote the fantastic career opportunities to be found in construction. Something we’re particularly passionate about at MKM is training and upskilling opportunities for our employees. To help women progress in the sector, more businesses should make training more accessible. There are so many women already making a real difference in the construction sector, so we’re spreading the word to help even more discover what would be a rewarding new chapter in their career”.
To learn more about MKM’s commitment to supporting Women in Construction, view the following video: