Since leaving university, Bruntwood Works’ Development Surveyor, Natalie Ernest has worked within our traditionally male-dominated industry and roles across a number of companies. As a female working in the sector, Natalie has faced a number of challenges along the way and achieving gender equality in the workplace, regardless of the sector, is something she feels extremely passionate about.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
To me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating the achievements of women and especially about raising awareness in the workplace to help achieve better gender equality.
What has been your experience of equality in the workplace?
As a woman in a male dominated industry you are aware of being in the minority or treated differently, even if unintentionally. I’d like to think this is improving and there are a lot of women who are both paving the way for younger generations and challenging some of the attitudes still held towards women in the workplace.
How do you think businesses should be helping women who may have been affected more by the pandemic?
I think in a large part it is cultural; if there was actual equality between the sexes I don’t think you would find that women were more affected by furlough or redundancy which will only be to the detriment of women’s financial independence and the gender pay gap. Companies should be looking at why that is the case and what that highlights in terms of the types of roles held by women or the way they are supported at work. In terms of caring responsibilities, I think businesses should actively promote flexible working and make it more acceptable for colleagues to change working hours or take flexible furlough if needed to help with caregiving, without having to feel that it is at a cost to their career.
What women do you admire and who inspires you?
There are a few women I’ve come across at work who make the effort to make you feel seen and whose work ethic I really respect. If I had to name one person I’m going to be topical and say Jackie Weaver, because who doesn’t think she’s great?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I’m not sure about the best advice but one which stands out is ‘No question is too stupid and you should never be too afraid to ask it.’ Imposter syndrome is an overwhelming female trait and you should be encouraged to speak out without feeling like what you have to say isn’t important or will sound stupid.
How are you helping to forge a gender equal world?
I think it’s really important that women support other women, so I’ll continue to do that wherever possible. Also gender equality should work both ways, so challenging male stereotypes and being aware that they exist is just as important.
I think it’s really important that when you see women doing well at work, and who are really authentic to themselves, to remember they have achieved a lot because they are women in the industry and not despite being a woman in the industry. I was so conscious of the way I came across when I got a job after university, yet you never see a successful male and see his gender as part of why he is successful, so why should being female play a part in this? We should note people’s success, ambition and work drive - that person’s gender shouldn’t be a key factor.
What has been your experience working with men in the industry?
My experience has been mixed. There have been men who have treated me as equal, some who have almost acted in a fatherly way and some who have acted in a derogatory or superior manner. I’d like to think that attitudes are changing, though it’s not happening quickly enough and I personally believe that a company’s culture is the biggest factor in helping to do that. I do think it is important for you to say if you feel you are being treated differently or overlooked because you’re female.
How do you think traditionally male-dominated industries can make joining the sector more appealing to women?
In terms of making the sector more appealing, I entered it because I had an interest in the built environment without ever really considering that it was male-dominated, so whether other women join because they don’t see it as a career available to them or one which would be welcoming I couldn’t say.
Raising more awareness in regards to the diversity of the roles available is key, as well as actively providing an equal workplace and making sure women don’t feel they are treated differently to men, that could be through something as simple as encouraging positive workplace attitudes through to representation of women in senior roles.
What advice would you give for other women/girls looking to a career in the sector?
To be supportive of other women and never feel like they aren’t able to have a say or make their voice heard.