Lee Hartley: How do we attract more women into careers in construction?

  11 March, 2021      CareersIndustry Insights
Lee Hartley: How do we attract more women into careers in construction?

How do we go about attracting more women into careers in construction? One of the big questions posed to our Diversity sponsor and Novus Director Lee Hartley in our recent interview with him. Here are Lee’s thoughts on this question and much more.

Introduction to Lee Hartley

Hello, I am Lee Hartley the Operations Director for Novus Property Solutions.

I have worked for the business for nearly 25 years now operating in both the Construction and Maintenance Sectors and within Commercial and Operational Management disciplines.

In addition to the duties I fulfil as Operations Director, I am also the Board Sponsor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, something that I feel privileged to lead.

Lee Hartley on attracting more women into construction

What is a Board Diversity Sponsor?

There are many ways to be an executive sponsor in any initiative, so it was important to understand the needs of the team when identifying the role to play.

In this case I undertake a role which includes:

  • Providing a Strategic lens to get plans executed by helping to navigate business priorities and “speak business” to present things in a way that will resonate with executives.
  • Being a Connector within the organization and advocate for our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) plan.
  • Being Vocal to make the plan widely known and use social capital to get additional buy-in, often by modelling the behaviours myself.
  • Champion initiatives and hold colleagues to account through initiative and event attendance and challenging behaviours witnessed.

Whilst the role can be challenging at times it is important to keep yourself fully educated as well as the strategic importance of improvement in this area for the business as the topic is also something which I feel strongly about personally,  it is also rewarding to lead progression for the business on a personal basis.

How do we attract more women into careers in construction and maintenance?

Although there is still much that needs to be done, attitudes to women working in the construction and maintenance industry have changed significantly over recent times.

Whilst it is acknowledged that the construction and maintenance sector remains a male-dominated industry, the workforce is at last becoming more gender diverse and there are now women working across many of our sites.

The challenge faced is that whilst stereotypes surrounding what are considered to be “male” and “female” roles have to a large extent been broken down, this is not yet being reflected by the number of women working in the industry.

Painting car park post


“the previous conception that women are not physically strong enough to work in trades roles in particular is no longer relevant.”

To address this we must first change the image / perception of the industry from that of a male-dominated, macho, physically demanding environment focused largely on manual trades, to one that can provide a huge range of careers covering a wide range of disciplines including not only construction and maintenance management professions but also business management roles.

It should also be highlighted that Technology and Innovation have also changed the face of the industry and we must promote this more to show construction is no longer dominated by manual labour but through technological advances the previous conception that women are not physically strong enough to work in trades roles in particular is no longer relevant.


It is important that efforts in promoting the image of the industry are not restricted to those within it, but in fact wider audiences such need to be targeted including schools leavers and those that influence and guide their career choices such as education establishments and parents and guardians.

This may seem like an obvious point, but many construction companies are failing to make sure that their staff are treated equally, regardless of their gender.

From providing both male and female toilets on site, to providing protective equipment that fits properly, we must ensure that everyone has the working conditions they need to do their job properly.

While the gender pay gap within construction is narrowing, it’s still one of the worst industries for pay disparity and recent statistics tell us that although organisations in the industry are trying to address this issue, collectively all of us in the industry still have a significant way to go.

It is essential that we make sure our staff are paid and promoted based on their job role and performance, not their gender.

“While the gender pay gap within construction is narrowing, it’s still one of the worst industries for pay disparity…. It is essential that we make sure our staff are paid and promoted based on their job role and performance, not their gender.”

The very nature of our industry and the services undertaken attracts travel and long, rigid working hours for a large proportion of roles.

This results in many workers struggling with work/life balance, and this could be discouraging some women from entering the industry.

Anyone with parental responsibilities need an element of flexibility within their roles which is currently hard to find within the construction and maintenance sector.

All organisations within the industry, both contractors and clients alike need to adapt working practices and the roles on offer to accommodate those that need greater flexibility and most importantly not allow this to be seen as a detrimental factor for career progression and development.

contract signing Attracting women to the industry needs to be more targeted if we are to reach the right audience and in particular when recruiting this is the case.

It is essential that we proactively seek out female applicants rather than simply waiting for them to approach organisations within the industry.

Undertaking targeted recruitment campaigns and working with expert diversity and inclusion focused bodies to get guidance on how we can better improve our recruitment and workplace culture is important for all organisations if we are to recruit and retain a talented and diverse workforce within the industry.

Due to the historical unattractive image and perception of the industry for women it is essential that organisations promote and celebrate the success of women operating within the industry in more recent times in order to encourage others to join and provide evidence / re-assurance that the industry and career prospects have changed.

Providing the platform to celebrate successes through industry awards and actively promoting and encouraging women to enter these awards will help in overcoming the previously perceived barriers to career progression and unwelcoming working environment.

What challenges do you think women can face in Construction?

I believe the main challenges some women may face within the construction industry can include:

  • Inequality – there is an imbalance / lack of recognition for women and significant gender pay gaps etc.
  • Inadequate working conditions – Site welfare provisions are often inadequate and surprisingly simple provisions such as properly fitted PPE are often not provided
  • Male dominated culture – Sexism has / does exist, we all recognise the stereotypical behaviours from some male construction workers which are disappointing and although reduced is still present
  • In-flexible working patterns – Long Hours, Rigid Hours can mean it is difficult for some women to build / access careers within the industry
  • Geographical spread of working locations – Fluid work locations, Travel or Working Away means it is difficult for some women to build / access careers within the industry

All of the above have historically created an image / perception of the industry that is unwelcoming and unattractive.

How do you think we can support women to thrive in Novus?

Critically we must strongly promote and embed equality into our culture and in this instance in particular gender equality.

We utilise our “Novus Way” to clearly define the values and behaviours we expect of our colleagues that will ensure our women colleagues are equally supported within our business.

To help reinforce this we provide a mechanism of reporting any cases where these are not adhered to through our confidential “Raising Concerns” provisions and strongly encourage colleagues to speak up where discrimination of any type is occurring.

To support this culture we look to our male colleagues to become allies to women, actively encouraging them at at all levels to visibly support our activities promoting better inclusion of women within our business.

This is to demonstrate their support and genuine desire to help women succeeding within our business.

All too often we just see female representation / promotion of these activities but I believe that to achieve true inclusion, mixed representation & support is required and through this we can break down the male/female barriers and outwardly show support.

“we look to our male colleagues to become allies to women, actively encouraging them at at all levels”

Active day to day support mechanisms are also important if our female colleagues are going to thrive.

Reverse mentoring is a great way of providing this and in particular by including our Senior Leadership Team within these provisions. This is not only a way of demonstrating senior level support for women to succeed within our business but equally visibility of talent internally to Senior leaders.

This method of mentoring also helps break down unconscious bias by allowing the mentor/mentee to meet regularly, each learning from the other and sharing experiences.

Tackling unconscious bias is critical to ensuring support is provided and through bespoke training for leadership teams, line managers and recruiting managers we ensure this barrier is removed.

In addition to mentoring support it is also important to “break the mould” through the use of targeted Training and Career Development Programmes to help our female colleagues achieve their potential.

We should not be scared of actively targeting this progression and in some cases this will be required if we are to achieve a more balanced gender representation at all levels within our business.

It is also important to demonstrate success and promote this both internally and externally to show where our female colleagues are thriving in the Novus career’s.

This not only acknowledges their personal efforts and achievements but also encourages and re-assures others that they can thrive within our business and we have a genuine desire for this to happen.

We use internal and external awards to do this as well as the usual business communications.

How can we encourage more females into apprenticeships?

Successful implementation of the improvement activities explained previously will undoubtedly improve the chances of encouraging more females into Apprenticeships.

However, to encourage more female apprentices a more targeted approach to outreach activity is required.

This targeted approach includes direct approaches to female organisations for mature apprenticeships and localised schools and colleges for more traditional apprenticeships.

These are proven to be more successful than national schemes and it is essential that strong relationships are built with these organisations that allow for prolonged outreach programmes.

These programmes need to be targeted around eradicating some of the misconceptions around the construction & maintenance industry and promote the changing environment modern organisations provide.

attracting women to construction apprentices

Offer extended outreach activities such as Work experience etc. to support real life experiences of the modern construction and maintenance environment will to vitally important in achieving this, something that has been challenging historically.

It is also important that we offer Female Role Models as part of outreach activity again to demonstrate that women can thrive and build successful careers within the industry, real life examples are the best way to do this.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career at Novus?

Obviously, I would strongly recommend this.

Having successfully built a career over a 25 year period from Trainee QS to Operations Director I have benefitted from exceptional levels of support and development along the way from a business that has led the way in terms of apprenticeships and internal colleague development programmes.

Most importantly, I have also seen how the culture and working environment along with employment provisions have changed over this period, to one that now offers many if not all of the characteristics set out above.

To ensure we provide the same opportunities for career development, which includes flexible career paths, to both potential and current colleagues regardless of their gender.

“I would encourage new entrants to explore the varied options available to them but to also consider the ability to follow different career paths along their journey”

I would encourage new entrants to explore the varied options available to them but to also consider the ability to follow different career paths along their journey, something which is not so readily available in other industries.

Careers in the construction and maintenance industry are varied, exciting and provide a different challenge almost every day.

In fact, we recently published a blog piece about the great benefits of working on construction right now.

Joining at a time where technology and innovation enhancements are at the forefront, the future looks even more enticing.

We have a number of female colleagues who have very successful careers in Novus and a number of women apprentices at the beginning of their careers in both trade and operational management roles and we encourage more women to join us.

For more about the issues raised in this article, why not check out our most recent roundtable series of videos discussing issues around Women in Construction via our YouTube channel playlist.

The first episode is below.

Reflecting on Housing 2024

Reflecting on Housing 2024

We’re delighted to have had a successful presence at Housing 2024, a key event in our annual calendar. The three-day event sees stakeholders from across the housing sector come together at Manchester Central to discuss and collaborate to identify solutions.


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