November 8th 2018

How women in construction can make their mark

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Katie Kelleher says she could never return to a 9-5 office job

How Katie Kelleher’s role as one of the only female crane drivers in the UK is helping women’s access to stem careers.

Did you know that women make up only 13% of construction sector workers? The picture is even worse when you look at the numbers working on site, where only 2% of workers are female. Katie Kelleher, one of only 10 female crane drivers in the UK, is one of the 2%, and she is determined to grow the numbers.

She knows there’s a big challenge ahead. In her own words: “the situation can’t be changed overnight.”

But if anyone can help achieve real change, Katie can. As one of five female crane operators at Laing O’Rourke’s plant specialist Select, she sits in the Sunday Telegraph’s Top 50 most influential women of engineering. And, as an esteemed STEM ambassador, she’s already making a buzz.

Laing O‘Rourke is stepping up to accelerate this. The company has recently put measures in place to make the construction industry more attractive to workers of all genders, cultures and backgrounds.

This is a far cry from how things were, say, four years ago. This is when Katie, who had worked as a recruitment consultant up until that point, started as a newly-qualified crane driver. It was on her very first day she realised just how much of a challenge her gender was going to present.

“It felt awful on day one, I have to admit. Nobody can prepare you to work on a construction site. I was two hours early for work, eager to start a new career manoeuvring heavy loads over what looked like a sea of men. When I said I’m here for the induction, people just stared at me.”

I've had my friends report back to me that their daughters have expressed an interest in becoming engineers, and even crane drivers. That makes me very happy, there is so much opportunity in the construction industry. Especially for women.

Katie Kelleher

Things got better from that day on. Katie was named the We Are The City Rising Star of 2017, quickly becoming one of the most recognisable faces in the construction industry. And she’s determined to make the most of this new influence.

 “I suppose I’ve become something of a flag-bearer for women in construction. I’m a member of apprentice boards and I give talks at schools, I chat to mums’ groups and at industry events, telling people about my experiences. I’m really pleased that my efforts won me shortlistings in the Construction News Talent Awards and the Sunday Telegraph’s Top 50 Women in Engineering.”

Swapping out a comfortable 9-5 in a nice, sheltered office to a Laing O’Rourke construction site like Thames Tideway or the Northern Line Extension may not seem like an obvious choice. But Katie thinks differently:

“It is a good industry for people to work in. But, if we’re not telling young people at school and we’re not telling people’s parents, then we’re not putting it out there as a viable option. We do degree apprenticeships and non-degree apprenticeships. I just tell people about the possibilities.”

I’m genuinely delighted with the possibilities offered by my employers. Laing O’Rourke’s an ever-changing company. I started as a crane operator and now I do all these talks and things. Your job role just seems to get as big as you want it to get.