Women in Construction Week – More “work to be done” to get women into construction

A development project manager who regularly oversees the construction of schemes costing over £40 million is hoping to inspire more women to step into the industry.

Sharing her experience during Women in Construction Week, Millie Edwards from The Riverside Group wants to help young girls and women to realise the opportunities they may be overlooking because of their gender.

Though Millie herself hasn’t always worked in construction, having started her career in housing management, since moving into the field 8 years ago, she has never looked back.

In fact, the transition into construction while Millie admits was initially a new challenge, is something she is most proud of.

“I had no qualifications in construction or development when Riverside first asked me to step up into a temporary role managing a 170-home project. It was a steep learning curve and very different to what I’d done previously but I was supported along the way to develop technical knowledge and after my success, was offered the chance to permanently join the development team.”

Ever since, Millie has been involved in the delivery of thousands of affordable homes spanning multiple development projects across the country, including extra care apartments.

“I loved working in housing management, and it has certainly enriched my role in development, but I’m glad I took the leap. In my previous role I focused on our customers and supporting them to manage their tenancies, while managing our properties as long-term assets.

“Through this I got to understand what is important to our customers and what they want and need for their homes, which I’m able to use as development project manager to influence decisions while we bring homes to life.”

Although figures show increases in women working in construction, Millie feels the story feels quite different on the ground.

“I’ve worked in the housing industry for 18 years and while I’ve definitely seen a slow and gradual rise in the number of women working in construction, there’s still a lot of work to be done to tackle the gender imbalance.”

Focused on upskilling herself and progressing in her construction career, Millie has recently graduated with a First Class (Hons) in Construction Management.

Millie in a graduation gown holding a scroll

“I was only one of two women studying while completing my construction management apprenticeship, which was a class of 30 people, and again during my Construction Management degree which was a smaller group of 12.

“At Riverside, across our development team, most of us are female, though are mainly sitting in management roles rather than trade positions. Of course it is amazing to hear of rises within the industry and more so to see women in leadership, but it’s especially far off being a 50/50 split of men and women when it comes to skilled tradespeople working predominantly on building sites.

“I’m always in awe when I see a female in a trade role because you sadly still don’t come across them as often as you’d hope.”

But the recent graduate from Leicester is hopeful for the figures to continue growing, so more women can be a part of bringing affordable homes and properties to our communities.

She added: “I think there is more to be done around actively seeking different demographics and promoting the opportunities available within the industry earlier, to help young girls and women realise there is more they could achieve and be a part of.

“These things won’t just come naturally. Using social media and going into schools would be especially useful so teenagers can learn what’s out there and know sooner that the likes of construction and trade work is not solely for men.”

The development project manager is also calling for more women across the industry to step up as role models by sharing their successes, stories, and experiences.

Millie commented: “Sadly women think they’re not big or strong enough to work in construction, so it’s about eliminating that belief and ensuring women recognise the value in them being part of the field as a whole. There’s so much more to construction than just seeing to the heavy lifting on a development site, there’s many other roles that they could excel in.

“When I first started, I felt like a fish out of water going onto a construction site in PPE. I’ve fortunately never experienced purposeful discrimination due to my gender, but I know from conversations across the sector there’s an underlying feeling that women have to prove themselves and their technical knowledge more than their male peers before they fully feel respected onsite.

“That being said, attitudes towards women working in construction has certainly grown and improved over the years and it’s much more of a welcoming environment.

“So I’d personally recommend other people – especially women – to consider a career in construction because it’s very rewarding and for me, being able to achieve within such a male dominated industry feels like a big achievement.”

Now Millie is looking forward to the prospect of managing the development of one of the largest modular projects in the country – something she never envisioned for herself 18 years earlier.

“Gender is definitely not a barrier within Riverside, and it certainly shouldn’t be across the construction industry or housing sector. I’ve always had so much support and encouragement from Riverside, helping me to get to where I am today, and I hope people will do the same for other young girls and women across the country, so it one day becomes less of a shock to see a female in a trades role and eventually so there’s less need for women to feel they have to purposely demonstrate their technical knowledge just to get buy in onsite.”

Ian Woodland, Regional Development Lead, at Riverside, added: “Millie is a fantastic asset to our development team and organisation. We’re pleased to have supported her as she’s advanced in the construction industry and succeeded brilliantly in her goal to increase her knowledge.

“Achieving the great academic results she has, while continuing to effectively carry out her exciting though busy role at Riverside and balancing personal responsibilities, shows real dedication.

“She’s worked incredibly hard and if her story inspires even one person to acknowledge the reduced barriers women face to get into the field and to consider the vast career opportunities – or to share word of their own success – we know that it would mean the world to her and us.”

The Riverside Group are committed to ensuring colleagues have access to excellent learning and development. Take a look at what career opportunities are available at Riverside.