8 March 2019
Victoria Heath - Principal Construction, Design and Management / Health & Safety Adviser at WYG - spoke to us on International Women’s Day about her involvement with women’s sports to raise awareness of mental health issues. She also spoke to us about her perception of wider challenges women face in the built environment sector.
Having won the award last year for Bath Businessperson of the Year 2018, she has involved herself heavily in supporting the Bath Ladies Rugby Team to promote the role of sports in championing women’s mental health. She has held informal networking events to support individuals in their construction industry.
Currently, she is investigating ways to assist homeless people in acquiring jobs on construction sites by speaking to Shelter and other organisations about offering free basic construction H&S training to allow individuals to meet the requirements for a Construction Skills Certification Scheme card.
Q: How would you say women’s position as role models in local communities has changed over the years (combining their roles in work, charity, at home, etc.)
Victoria: I would say that visibility of women as role models is more and more important. When trying to encourage women to join industry or other initiatives, a relatable character can make all the difference. Social media, among other tools, has proven invaluable in spreading the message.
Q: You recently won Bath Businessperson of the Year 2018, partly for your involvement in the Bath Ladies Rugby Team. How did you get involved?
Victoria: I wanted to get involved in promoting a women’s sports team. Unfortunately, severe injury from sport and a subsequent motorbike accident meant I was unable to participate, but I saw an opportunity with Bath Ladies Rugby, who needed a shirt sponsor to allow them to have a new anniversary strip for their 15th year. Alongside my part-time employment at WYG, I am involved in a small consultancy who provided the required sponsorship. I am also involved in advertising and spreading the word of the Ladies team via websites and promotion of events to networking groups.
Q: What do you believe are the most pressing mental health concerns/other difficulties the women you network with generally face, and are there aspects of modern-day society that amplify those?
Victoria: There are so many challenges facing women today, from motherhood to the ‘glass ceiling’, career opportunities, and mental health awareness.
One major challenge across numerous sectors is woman-on-woman competitiveness. It can be difficult to encourage women to stand up for each other, with countless of the professional women I’ve spoken to finding that they don’t like working alongside women, due to factors like competition, pressure, or personality clashes.
We need to embrace what we all bring to the table. I believe team sports can help accomplish this by encouraging comradery and a real sense of confidence in one’s ability to learn and know when to lean on others for support.
The other major challenge is juggling the social expectations of parenting with personal career achievements. It can be incredibly overwhelming for many women, and in many cases, parenthood must take priority, due to factors like costs of childcare and inflexible work environments. It’s one of the reasons I am really proud of WYG; the business really seeks to look after its employees and flexible working is one of the ways it does this.
Q: What do you think are some of the main barriers to entry for women in the construction industry at present? How can these be overcome?
Victoria: Clearly, construction is still viewed as a man-led industry. I don’t think I have ever spoken to a ‘layperson’ about my job without some gobsmacked comment about ‘girl power’ or ‘telling the men off onsite’. This is very unhealthy, as I just want to be taken seriously in a job I am good, and many of my female colleagues would agree with that. The fight is not to be treated differently, just the same as our male counterparts.
Education and awareness are key to the solution. Support from large organisations must be maintained, and school children need to be targeted. Some people’s mentality that women should only be onsite as Admin or Canteen Staff sounds laughable, but still very much exists.
The hard work to be taken seriously as a woman in the built environment industry is often taken for granted: first it’s too confident and aggressive, then it is too meek and unauthoritative. The balancing act can be very difficult for some women. We need our male colleagues to help stamp out old-fashioned and unhelpful narrative