Celebrating the Diverse Paths of Women in Construction: An Interview With Hannah Corby

Happy Women in construction week! On this day, people all over the world celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and call for equal gender rights. It also coincides with Women in Construction Week, which celebrates women in the construction industry.

In this year's WIC Week theme, 'Many Paths, One Mission,' we celebrate how women have taken different journeys towards the same goal: strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the construction industry. To kick off this celebration, we interviewed Hannah Corby, a customer and employee of S T Plumbing & Heating Gas Specialists Ltd.

We hope that by featuring her story, we can inspire more women to pursue careers in this field and celebrate the diversity and strength of women in engineering and the broader construction industry. As a company that supports women employees in all areas, ATAG is excited to participate in this week-long celebration!

Journey Into the Engineering Industry.

The engineering industry has seen more women joining and succeeding at their craft. According to Engineering UK, women comprise 16.5% of all engineers compared to 10.5% in 2010, representing a 6-percentage point increase in the proportion of women in the engineering workforce. Hannah Corby is one of these women who have broken barriers and excelled in the industry.

Hannah's journey to becoming a Gas Safe Registered Engineer wasn't traditional, as she began her career as an NHS dietitian. However, after experiencing some personal and health issues, she changed and pursued something more hands-on.

From a young age, Hannah had always been interested in seeing how things worked and fixing them, so becoming an engineer was a natural fit. With more women like Hannah joining the engineering workforce, we can expect even more tremendous strides toward gender equality in traditionally male-dominated industries like boilers and engineering.

Overcoming Challenges to Achieve Success

As a newcomer to the plumbing industry, Hannah's first impressions of the boiler industry were a mix of fascination and intimidation. She attended the Phex exhibition in Manchester to learn more about evidence-based practices and boiler efficiency.

However, she quickly realised that there was a lot to learn about boilers and that most people needed to understand the parameters that boilers could work towards. The sheer amount of information she had to absorb initially overwhelmed her, but her eagerness to learn kept her going.

Unfortunately, not all companies were as supportive of her learning journey, as some were not willing to answer her questions or set the boiler according to the customer's needs. Despite the challenges, Hannah's passion for the industry and desire to learn more has helped her become a successful Gas Safe Registered Engineer today.

Encouraging Young Women to Pursue Engineering Careers

Gender gaps in employment sectors are still prevalent in many industries, and unfortunately, the engineering industry is no exception. Women in engineering make up a tiny fraction of the UK workforce, and we recognise this gender imbalance as a global issue. Currently, only 8.5% of engineers in the UK are female, and the UK needs 1.8 million engineers by 2025. 

This gender-based gap could make it hard to meet this requirement in the upcoming years. Some studies suggest several potential reasons for the lack of women within the engineering and technology sectors, including education, role models, and perception. Despite this, Hannah Corby believes young women should be able to pursue engineering careers.

Hannah advises young women to take the initiative and show interest in the field by asking for opportunities, offering to shadow or labour for free, and engaging with social media to learn and be inspired. She also advises young women to be passionate about their goals, take risks, not take things personally, and be authentic.

Despite the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, Hannah encourages young women to give it a go and not be afraid of failure. By doing so, they can challenge preconceptions and become successful role models for future generations of female engineers.

Defying Female Engineering Stereotypes

Hannah Corby's favourite part of being an engineer is problem-solving and thinking outside the box to get the job done. She finds it satisfying to complete simple jobs like fixing a faulty toilet or a heating programmer with new batteries, as they can make a massive difference in people's lives. Unfortunately, for some women, this can only be a dream.

The stereotype that women won't succeed in engineering careers has deterred many young women from pursuing the field. Fortunately, the industry is evolving and seeing more women leaders and entrepreneurs. Many contemporary female engineers are defying stereotypes with their expertise and leadership. Despite the historical under-representation of women in engineering, many female engineers have significantly impacted society.

Martha Coston, for example, completed the work of her late husband Benjamin and invented safety flares for the US Navy to use in night signalling. Although she had no formal training, she educated herself and worked alongside hired chemists and firework technicians to engineer her invention.

While the industry has a long way to go to even the gender imbalance, young women looking for role models should look no further than the many accomplished female engineers making a name for themselves today. Hannah herself is a role model for young women interested in the field, demonstrating that it's always possible to take a risk and pursue a career in engineering. And though she didn't imagine becoming an engineer when she was younger, she took a risk and followed her passion, which paid off immensely.

Exciting Changes in the Engineering Industry

In recent years, the engineering industry has gradually shifted towards gender equality, with some countries reporting over 50% of female engineers. For instance, the percentage of female engineers remains low in most countries, including the UK and the USA. However, there has been a slight increase in female engineers in the UK, rising from 13% to 14.5% in 2022.

Hanna, who works in the industry, mentioned a divide she had noticed between those who prioritise quality work and those who simply throw products in without a care for long-term maintenance. She also observed this trend in her college, with some students only doing the bare minimum to pass and others actively seeking to advance themselves and understand how faults occur.

Now, she highlights changes in the solidarity between women in the engineering industry, where they focus more on quality work. She also acknowledges the importance of male allies who support, mentor, and encourage them and helps normalise female engineers' presence in their respective fields.

As a result of these changes and efforts, there has been an increase in the number of women employed as tradespeople, sole traders, directors, and in management positions.

Changing Perceptions Through Positive Representation

As a female engineer in a male-dominated industry, Hannah has faced numerous inquisitive comments from homeowners. However, she's not bothered by it; she believes she can change people's perceptions with a smile. Sometimes, she's even the first female plumber that customers have ever met, which she takes as an opportunity to be a positive role model for women in the trade. 

It's not only hands-on women like Hannah who play a vital role in the industry but also women like Claire Saxton, the company director and a general dog's body. Claire's knowledge of the industry helps her to advise customers on the fundamentals of plumbing and heating, which saves the engineers time-consuming visits.

Today, as we celebrate Women's International Day, we recognise and celebrate Hannah Corby for her vital role in the engineering industry and for encouraging more women to take up these roles.