Helen Scott Denton Site

Place Skills | Building for change

Having started out working with Norweb, I pretty much fell into my job after selling AVDanzer the latest electrical equipment back in the 80s, writes Helen Scott of AVDanzer.

AVDanzer had been a customer of mine for some months but one day John Holloway, who owned the company, offered me a job and I joined on 31 October 1988. He gave me an A to Z of Manchester and threw me in at the deep end by sending me out to visit clients on construction sites. I was often faced with incredulity and wolf whistles which thankfully has been stamped out these days.

The situation for women in construction today is vastly improved compared to when I began my career. But it’s by no means perfect; we’re still a minority. A big part of the solution for me is removing the gender stereotyping that still occurs when children are very small. The ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ distinction is as strong as ever. Today if you ask little girls to picture a fire fighter for instance, the majority will still draw a man. We really need to address that in the home and at school.

Now I’m the co-director of a £13.5m turnover company which employs almost 100 people, but in the early days it was very much a ‘man’s world’. It’s fair to say I was generally the only woman in the room when I went to meetings and I was one of the youngest, too.

This is during a time when there was no expectation to see a woman on site. It wasn’t that they were banned, they just weren’t there – so I was a little bit of a novelty.

The approach to gender isn’t the only thing which I’ve seen altered. The premise of my business, and the sector it serves, has changed; over the years AVDanzer has gone from a site cabin hire company to a major manufacturer and an international supplier of site accommodation and modular buildings.

The rise of modular construction has been a great change. I think we’re at a crucial time where different building technologies are key to solving the problems of under-supply in the housing market, and affordability. It feels like construction is fundamentally changing, and that makes it a great time for women to shake things up by bringing their talents and ideas to the sector.

A woman in construction may have been unusual at the start of my career, but 30 years on I’m pleased to say it is very different, and I’m proud to have played a part in changing people’s viewpoint. Today you would absolutely expect to see women employed in top jobs with good remuneration.

In the final analysis, is it really so surprising that a woman can lead a business? And if not, then why wouldn’t that business be within the construction sector?

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