You can’t be what you can’t see: Spotlighting our Women in Construction

8th March 2024 |

Construction is the world’s largest industry, contributing 13% to the global GDP and it is set to remain so. It does however face an ever-increasing demand for skilled workers, with a persistent shortage across the board. Despite this fact, women still only make up 14.7% of those employed within the UK Construction industry.

In a bid to address this, industry leaders, such as our MD Rupert Perkins, are throwing their support behind initiatives, such as Women in Construction. Reaching out to 47% of the UK workforce, to show them the opportunities the construction industry offers women.

With that said, we wanted to spotlight two of the incredible women in our team, digging into their stories and experience of construction. We will be speaking to Karla, who is based onsite and Natalie who now finds herself in head office. We hope that in sharing their stories we can help other women find their way to careers in construction.

Onsite: Meet Karla

Karla Oakes, Assistant Site Manager, Weston-Super-Mare

Karla is bright, vivacious, and ambitious. She has been working with John Perkins Construction for a little over year and forms part of a high achieving site management team with Rich Mann. They are currently based on our Ashcombe School site in Weston-Super-Mare managing the build of the second half of new school incorporating a new reception, more classrooms and office space, as well as an entire sports hall!

I managed to drag Karla off the roof to have a chat with her about the construction industry and how she feels women fit in.

How long have you worked in construction?

Forever. My mum was a decorator, and I was unofficially helping her on jobs from twelve years old. Sixteen was when I officially started on my own in the industry, as a decorator in private homes.

3 years ago, I moved down to Somerset with my Fiancé and that was the first time I worked on an actual construction site. It was a residential construction site, and I was there to decorate. I worked there for 2 years before one of the construction managers suggested that I make the move into site management. I did, I love it and now I’m here!

What made you choose construction?

My whole family are in the building trade, it’s all I know really. The thing is I really enjoy it. I have tried office work, but it just didn’t suit me. I prefer the practical element of a site. My mum was also a real role model to me. She worked in construction her whole career, she ran an entire team of blokes, she was really great at what she did, and they loved and respected her for it.

What qualifications do you have/how did you get into the industry?

I have my CSCS, SMSTS Site Management, Health & Safety and First Aid.  When I started out you didn’t need qualifications and I had grown up in the industry so a lot of the things I knew, I had learnt through family or were self-taught.  I would spend my 6 weeks holiday in the summer working with mum on site or occasionally my dad, where I learned other skills such as tiling and a bit of carpentry and it was brilliant!

What is the best thing about your job?

This is really easy; I love it all. The work is different every day, you are constantly learning so there’s no chance to get bored. The people I work with are great, they are down to earth, and we are all there to get a job done, so working together is a given.

I really think that women bring balance to a job site that is needed. Maybe it’s a calming influence, I’m not sure, but there is definitely a need for it.

What is the hardest thing about your job?

So, this is hard to say as I really do enjoy my job. But I suppose making sure that the subcontractors are on site when they need to be, that materials have been delivered in time and that everything is correct. Keeping a close eye on the operatives ensuring they are turning up and working to the programme and not shooting off too early. This can sometimes be difficult to approach with their bosses.  Having to be focused and on the ball all the time so nothing gets missed, we all have our tired days so sometimes this can be a little challenging.

What advice would you give to a woman thinking about choosing construction as an industry?

Don’t be put off by the stereotypes you’ve heard of men on site. Trust me, I am not there being wolf whistled at. The guys I work with are my team, I manage them, and they are respectful of me and what I do onsite. I think some women are worried that they would struggle physically, but honestly as a woman you can do everything that the guys can do onsite if you put your mind to it.

There are so many opportunities for women in this industry and it’s really important that girls know that they can join it and that they will be valued.


Offsite: Meet Natalie

Natalie Gale-Sides, BA(Hons), MSc, MCIOB, Preconstruction Manager, Bristol

Natalie is an integral part of the office team. She is as warm, knowledgeable, and open to help everyone. Natalie returned to work last year having had a little girl and is back winning business for John Perkins Construction with her team.

How long have you worked in construction?

Since 2006 – 18 years. I started as an Architectural Assistant. I started there, and then did a master’s in construction project management, then worked for a Project Management company. I was seconded to a client team and spent some time working on the client side as a Facilities and Estate Manager for the University of Bath and as a Project Sponsor for Ministry of Justice. I then moved into the contracting world and as a Framework Manager for ISG and now I’m here working for John Perkins Construction as their Preconstruction Manager!

What made you choose construction? What qualifications do you have/how did you get into the industry?

As a child I had quite a technically minded brain. All of my school studies would always veer towards the more technical side of things. In art I was drawn to graphics. Design Technology was very hands on, and I was really interested in ‘how’ things were made.

In all honesty, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Originally, I thought maybe I could be a journalist, and then thought that I wouldn’t want to do that all my life. Ironically, I now do a lot of writing for my career, so I suppose that’s still in there for me! Speaking with someone before university, knowing that technical drawing was my thing, they suggested that studying Architecture at university might be an option and I thought it was worth a go. During my year out, after my BA degree, I realised I was more interested in the process of building, rather than what it looked like. So, I went back to study Project Management as my master’s and qualified as a Charted Construction Manager with the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building).

What is the best thing about your job?

Natalie Gale-Sides and Rupert Perkins

I love the variety of it, but that’s always been something that I enjoyed, even when I was doing Architecture, you never have 2 jobs the same. We do something completely different every time we tender a job. I don’t think we have had 2 similar jobs since I started working with John Perkins Construction. Even when I was working with Ministry of Justice, even though it was all prisons and courts, it was all different.

What is the hardest thing about your job?

On the contractor’s side, it’s hard sometimes to engage all the stakeholders during a tender period. You really have to rely on your relationships with consultant teams. Working with the unknown unknowns while producing a tender document. We are committed to getting this first stage as right for the client as we can. There are the inevitable hidden surprises of each job, this can be frustrating.

There are still some old school characters in the industry, that don’t believe a women can do the job as well as a man. There are companies out there whose thinking around women in construction is a little antiquated. There is still a stigma over the flexibility of home verse work. You want to do the best you can at work whilst supporting you family at home, and there is still that hesitancy of getting that flexibility right.

What advise would you give to a woman thinking about choosing construction as an industry?

Do it. I think there is something for everybody in the construction industry. It isn’t just construction equals builder onsite, that’s not the only thing available. The first question I ask when I go to career fairs is, what do you enjoy studying in school, and there is normally a construction industry role in something they enjoy doing now.

There are so many roles available, if they enjoy doing maths it might be a Quantity Survey or Engineering Designer. If they enjoy English, it might be Marketing or Bid Writing. If it’s hands on skills they love, the list is endless. But there is always something that you can tailor your likes to within the construction industry.

Don’t be shy in putting yourself into this space. Women have as much to give as our male counterparts. If you can look past the stigma that construction is a male dominated industry, then you can absolutely fly and be successful.

Related News

The New Generation of Construction: A Closer Look at Professional Apprenticeships

The New Generation of Construction: A Closer Look at Professional Apprenticeships

In the ever-evolving landscape of the UK's construction industry, professional apprenticeships stand out as a...

Read more
Introducing our Aftercare Manager: Mitch Duggan

Introducing our Aftercare Manager: Mitch Duggan

As I sat down to speak to Mitch, his phones buzzes. ‘Ah, sorry it’s a...

Read more
Business Resilience: Our journey

Business Resilience: Our journey

In 2020, the world experienced COVID-19.  ‘Unprecedented’ became the word of the year, and we...

Read more