Within the UK, according to this Trade Sparky infographic, only 1% of UK based electricians are women and out of the 255,283 electricians operating within the UK, female electricians only make up a mere 2,180. You would maybe believe that this shocking statistic is based upon the lack of demand for female electricians within the industry, but you’d be wrong – approximately 29% of UK adults claim to favour a female electrician over a male, with 41% of women saying they would ‘feel safer in their homes with a female electrician’.
So, why is there such an apparent lack of women in this profession? Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that the tradesperson industry is male-dominated and has been largely characterised by ‘laddish’ behaviour through (albeit stereotypical) portrayals and representations in the media, and thus sexist ‘banter’ and sexual harassment is still a fairly common experience for women in the manual trades profession. This seems to be one of the main deterrents, as a recent poll undertaken by the Trades Union Congress highlighted that half of the female workers across the construction-based industry had experiences with unwanted sexual behaviour whilst on the job.
Other factors contributing to the absence of female tradespeople includes the sensation of underestimation that women feel when it comes to the physical aspects of the job. With an overriding, false assumption circulating social attitudes that men harbour more physical strength than women, it’s no wonder that this then contributes to the false impression that female tradespeople would struggle with the labour involved – with many female electricians feeling undermined by their male counterparts.
Another discouraging statistic surrounding females in the construction industry involves the gender pay gap which is found within the UK for electricians and tradespeople. This Trade Sparky infographic highlights the inequality that female electricians face in today’s industry – there is a £3,650 gap between the average yearly wage for an electrician in the UK with men earning £34,414 annually against the £30,764 that women earn.
If these issues are prevalent in so many female’s lives, then it stands to reason that this sense of gender imbalance within the electricians industry should be spoken about widely in critical and academic works centred around feminism, and yet it feels like this area of gender inequality isn’t as thoroughly discussed as it needs to be.
In order to tackle this, we at Trade Sparky feel that discussing these issues with a female who is successful within this field will help to further advances in achieving gender equality. We’ve chatted to Instagram sensation Allyson Lowry (@chicksparky) to understand her experiences as a female electrician. Allyson set out to showcase her experiences in the male-dominated world of construction through her social media posts – in order to encourage females to join the industry and show everybody that the industry only benefits from having females involved – with a bio stating: ‘Don’t have to look or dress like a man to gain respect in a mans world!’
Did you encounter any hurdles due to your gender when starting out as an electrician?
I started with the huge stereotypical hurdles, I did my pre apprenticeship first and did work experience with a great company who did a wide range of work. Once I finished the work experience I applied for a job. This company had two bosses, one boss was all for it, saying I’m a hard worker and would make a great apprentice and the other agreed but had the idea that I would get pregnant and didn’t want to put me on. Luckily, they still put me on and I haven’t gotten magically pregnant from doing electrical work since, haha.
Do you think that sharing your experiences as a female electrician on social media is a step towards encouraging more women to join the industry? What has the reception been to your posts?
I share everything on social media, both the tradie and the lady and from the reactions of other women and supportive men also, I feel like I am encouraging women in the trades.
The ones who may have already tried the girly trades like hair dressing or beauty, or decided they don’t like retail or indoor work, for example, and found they don’t mind still being a woman while building something great - they are my target on my social media.
I’m trying to break stereotypes and show that women who want to be in the trades don’t have to lose their female qualities to feel respected or safe in the workplace, we don’t have to act a certain way, dress a certain way or remain quiet when we receive the harassment at work (and we do cop it often) just to keep a job.
Now that my page has gotten bigger, I get far less negativity from people and more support because people are seeing that I can do both and they are starting to believe they can too!
Are you surprised by the statistic that only 1% of electricians are women?
1% is such a low number, I am so shocked that is all!
The gender equality gap is slowly narrowing in the current social climate. However, the electrical industry isn’t discussed as widely as other professions in regards to gender imbalance. Do you think this industry would benefit from more mainstream discussions?
Since joining Instagram in December 2018, I have seen so many tradies out there that are women and the goals they are kicking daily but I couldn’t count female electricians on one hand. It’s a trade that is “scary” because you can’t see what can possibly kill you. I know girls who have be deterred from this, and then told that trade is so hard. Yes, there are days that are hard but you learn, and I think just a decent discussion with someone who has been there and done it could change so many attitudes towards entering the field!
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to women out there who are considering joining the industry, but are discouraged by how male-dominated it is?
Just try it, yes you might not cross paths with another woman doing the same thing as you now but soon you’ll be the tradie that is teaching future female apprentices and we need more of you!
The work that Allyson is doing on her Instagram is massively important in the encouragement of female apprentices, and her message is one that needs to be heard – along with other female electricians’ messages – in order to achieve greater equality within the industry. If you’d like to keep up to date with Allyson on social media, her Instagram is @chicksparky and she’s also on Facebook at facebook.com/alliethesparky.
So, what is being done to rebalance the gender statistics? Several organisations within the industry have spoken up about the gender imbalance and have tried to encourage females to join the industry – despite the setbacks. Natasha Clark-Withers, a 32-year-old EX British Gas engineer, noticed, through feedback from customers, that there was a gap in the market for female tradespeople, and that many customers would prefer a woman in their home. This led her to set up Get Her Trade, a ‘comprehensive, free-to-search online directory of tradeswomen that allows customers to find female traders based on location, service type or reviews’. Gethertrade.com makes searching for a female electrician much simpler – whilst also helping existing female electricians gain jobs and customers.
Electrical wholesalers QVS Direct also helped to bridge the gap between male and female electricians through launching a campaign to get more women involved in the electrical industry – this campaign involved interviewing a number of female electricians to help voice their experiences and advice for upcoming female apprentices. They’ve also extended this interview to other large wholesalers, to try and gain a larger perspective.
Hopefully, given the direction that society is already heading, the gender imbalance within the electricians industry will eventually vanish – but in the meantime women who remain in the industry comment vastly on their pride and satisfaction in their work and often talk about their increased confidence outside the workplace too - challenging gender stereotypes and building female empowerment.