Leah Robson was hard at work installing the heating at her client's home. The prospective client was a single man who had his own apartment, and he was moving in.
Where do you want this, then? was a question that a worker for the removals company asked Robson repeatedly as she worked.
She was forced to clarify three times that "I'm just fixing the heating," "It's not my house, and I'm not married to the man who's moving in. ".
Ms. Robson currently owns and operates Your Energy Your Way, a business that specializes in plumbing, heat pumps, renewable energy, and related services. She and other female professionals in the field argue that in 2023, the workforce supporting many building trades should be much more diverse because still too many people think a woman cannot be a plumber.
Although the Office of National Statistics (ONS) predicts that the number of female plumbers increased from 2,700 (1.9 percent) in 2021 to 3,500 (2.4 percent) in 2022, the proportion of female plumbers is still very small.
Even 2.4 percent is terrible, isn't it? asks Ms. Robson. Similar percentages of women work in other building trades.
The ONS warns that because its data is derived from extrapolated findings from a nationwide survey, it should only be considered an estimate. Some of the respondents identified themselves as plumbers or heating engineers.
In 687 heating and cooling companies, 5 percent of the employees were women, according to a government report released in January, but the report also made the following observation: "The sector may be slightly less diverse than these numbers imply. ".
Women should make up 10% of all plumbing apprentices, according to the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers' Federation (SNIPEF).
"I spent 17 years at work before I encountered another woman. Then I started looking for them," says Hattie Hasan, the company's founder and a plumber who runs Stopcocks Women Plumbers.
In addition to in-person events like those hosted by Stopcocks, she and Ms. Robson emphasize the importance of social media in bringing together women in the industry across the nation, from Facebook groups to TikTok. Additionally, the business maintains a list of 750 female tradespeople in the UK, including 100 plumbers.
Employers frequently believe that including women in their advertising or stating that they offer equal opportunities is sufficient, but this isn't the case, according to Ms. Hasan.
Plumbing companies should think about how to accommodate women's needs in order to actually encourage them to work, from menopause support to flexible scheduling for single parents, gender-specific restrooms, and personal protective equipment that fits them properly to protect them from workplace hazards like dust.
The company has told some of the women we've spoken to that they must purchase their own clothing because doing so would be more costly for the business.
According to Ms. Hasan, women who are self-employed may find it easier to work as plumbers right now because it gives them more flexibility in managing their other obligations. She says that despite approaching several businesses for employment, she was eventually forced to establish herself as a self-employed trader.
Plumber Sovay Berriman works for himself and is based in Cornwall. She uses the company name "Plumbmaid," which, as she explains, has nothing to do with being a maid in a servile sense but is instead a reference to Cornish slang, where calling a woman "some maid" is a slang term for highly praising her.
Being a woman in the field, she claims, "a lot of male customers as well find it a relief.". They're just like, 'Oh, great!' because they don't have to be a guy. ".
While many are very supportive, Sovay Berriman has experienced her fair share of prejudice and, like Ms. Robson, believes that the industry must work to combat presumptions that tradespeople are, by definition, men.
She continues by saying that, in order to prevent the perpetuation of stereotypes, she would be cautious before attributing any specific traits to either men or women in the industry. For example, it is not true that all women communicate more effectively than men.
Business technology has become more sophisticated.
She does, however, mention that she thinks her own abilities have helped her a lot. Customers are generally receptive to the way I explain things, she claims.
"I'm not sure if that's because of my gender, but I do believe that women are good at [communication] is something that may be more ingrained in society," the speaker said. ".
A real issue is that the majority of plumbers and heating system installers in the UK are white men, which implies that there is a vast pool of "untapped talent" available, according to Viven Kizilcec, consumer research manager at Energy Systems Catapult, a government-funded research organization.
Today's high tech plumbing and heating trades necessitate an understanding of intelligent controls, renewable energy sources, and energy-efficient appliances.
She suggests that if more people knew about this, a larger and more diverse cohort might apply for the position: "With these new green technologies, you are getting a much wider range of skills. ".
According to Aimee Holloran, a business development manager at Samsung Electronics, parental support can have a significant impact. She started out as a plumbing apprentice but now specializes in advising clients about heat pumps. She claims that her father introduced her to many activities that are typically reserved for boys, such as riding motorcycles. Her mother also recommended the plumbing apprenticeship.
Some businesses have goals in place to increase gender equality. Seven female apprentices were hired by LiveWest, a housing association in the south-west of England, in the previous year, in a variety of trades. Of the 471 tradespeople employed there, 21 are women at the moment.
The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) published guidelines for employers earlier this year, recommending that they make their diversity goals public, create diverse interview panels when hiring candidates, and use inclusive language. Avoid using words like "tradesman" or other overtly discriminatory phrases in job descriptions.
According to Kevin Wellman, CEO of CIPHE, "there is definitely still a long way to go" in terms of gender equality.
In agreement, Ms. Hasan adds one more thing. Beyond simply increasing the workforce, women can contribute new and improved methods to the plumbing industry. She urges people to stop asking whether women can be just "as good as" men.
She laughs and asks, "Since when has doing things the way men do been the standard that we all have to meet?"