“Ah! So you’re not a real builder” – Five things that make you a real builder, even if you are a girl!

The thing about being a female builder  (and before we go any further this part of my identity is not up for debate) is that quite a lot of people don’t like the idea that you’re a builder. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about individuals who won’t employ you or work with you, I’m talking about people in general; let me give you an example of a conversation that I’ve had a lot in my life –

Stranger: “What do you do for a living?”

 Me: “I’m a builder”

 Stranger: “What do you do?”

Me: “I set out buildings / manage buildings”

Stranger: “But you don’t lay bricks?”

Me: “No, lots of things I build don’t involve brickwork”

Stranger: “Ah! So you’re not a real builder; I mean you don’t look like one. I couldn’t imagine you carrying bricks or something.”

The trouble I have with this is that I’ve never seen my male builder friends have this conversation – in fact quite the opposite – more than once I have been involved in building something in a non-work scenario and seen men who have never built anything before (and been open in that fact) being considered more appropriate to manage the building elements of a task based purely on their gender; my knowledge was deemed irrelevant.

The problem is, as a female builder there are plenty of stereotypes to contend with and to not even be able to identify with what you do in an industry that depends significantly on identity is particularly hard.

I am well aware there are women who refer to themselves as ‘builders’ for the novelty value and resulting from their involvement with institutions and bodies under the guise of HR or marketing who make matters worse for women in industry calling themselves a builder and then outlining what they actually do only to reinforce that being a builder is something women say, not do, so I have a proposal… –

If what follows are features of your job spec, you are a builder: –

  • Manual – On-site you have sawn timber, fixed heras fencing, floated concrete, made cubes, bashed pegs, or done other physical work regularly as a normal part of your job.
  • Knowledge – You understand how materials, or at least your own materials that you work with, interact together.
  • Drawings – You can read drawings appropriate to your works
  • Weather – You don’t view weather as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, rather ‘weather you can work in’ and ‘weather you can’t’. Your trade or profession will define which this is; any setting out engineers are likely to consider any weather besides snow as a “chance to get ahead of the ground-workers”.
  • Mentality – You know it’s not about you; it’s about getting the job done.

However, if any of the above is not in your job spec, thank you for supporting the industry and the people in it, but please be sympathetic and understand your impact when you say you are a builder.

For anyone looking to challenge a woman builder in the future; don’t – it’s not your place.  They are likely to have heard it before and, quite honestly, it hurts a little bit – after all it’s part of the reason I’m no longer a builder.