Monday, 25 January 2021
British plumber and CEO of the Stopcocks Women Plumbers franchise for women in the plumbing trade, Hattie Hasan MBE says it’s time for tradeswomen to stand up and be counted...
You started plumbing in 1990. What’s changed in the industry in terms of attitudes towards women since that time?
It has changed in many ways — and in many ways it hasn’t changed. There are certainly more women wishing to enter trades and there are many more college places filled by women. More of the bigger companies are taking on female apprentices than before, notably in the social housing and insurance sectors. In all those ways, things have got better, and we are certainly moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, going on anecdotal evidence and by emails and discussions in my network, attitudes within the workplace still have a very long way to go. Though women are being championed in those places where diversity is celebrated, the level of hostility some women encounter is disturbing. These range from sexual harassment (of all varieties) right through to being sent to dangerous locations alone and late at night. There seems to be a big difference between a company’s policies and the reality of working there on site. Many organisations think that hiring more women is enough in itself to change the culture, but we definitely need to back that up with more support.
What are the remaining barriers for women wanting to enter the trades?
I think there’s a perception that going into a trade isn’t something a person with a brain or ethics would do! And when we see tradespeople on the telly, they’re always mean. As a result, ask a child to draw a bricklayer, a plumber, a crane driver and they draw a man. Bright girls (and presumably boys too) are still being told by careers advisors they’re ’too good’ to come into skilled trades. And it shouldn’t be up to 16-year-old girls, who are often the only woman in their college, to be the ones to change the industry.
Have customer attitudes towards tradeswomen changed?
Although some householders are surprised and even shocked to encounter tradeswomen (“When’s the plumber arriving love?”) many now actively seek out tradeswomen. In fact, the demand for tradeswomen by householders massively outstrips the supply. Right now, without promoting our register, requests for work have hugely increased (from three to four requests daily to around 20). Every time we mention in the world that tradeswomen exist, more customers search for us and find us. According to a Watersafe study, around 30% of householders would now prefer to use tradeswomen.
Are there demonstrable differences between how male and female tradespeople work?
Customers report a higher level of attention to detail, that tradeswomen plan for longer and are then quicker at the actual work, that tradeswomen are highly perfectionist (obviously not all and not always – and obviously the same can be said for many men too). But the main difference is customer service, and this is the main reason householders choose women. Householders want someone who’ll be reliable, trustworthy, call back, call if they’re delayed, price reasonably, work in a clean and tidy way, clear up afterwards, keep them informed, explain clearly. They don’t want to be patronised. Householders expect women to meet all these criteria but see it as exceptional if men do. It’s clear from householder feedback and the distressed state they’re often in after dealing with tradesmen that they get this level of customer service more often from women than from men.
We believe that the physical differences between the sexes don’t have any effect on ability to do the job. Men tend to have greater upper body strength, women are usually smaller and can get into small awkward places. We recognise that we are different from each other and know that women are trained to consider others’ needs in every situation they walk into. It’s this training that means women have what are referred to as ’soft skills’, giving us a customer service perspective that so many householders comment on as being what they’re looking for in people who work in their sanctuary. All this is a spectrum of course. There are men who are great at this and women who think in very focused ways, hate using the phone and have excellent upper body strength!
You’ve set up the National Register of Tradeswomen. How did that come about?
No one knows how many tradeswomen there are in the UK. We need data to be able to create and measure change – we don’t count if we’re not counted. I attended an event for entrepreneurs in 2006. Delegates were invited to talk about their business for two minutes. I was becoming aware of how many women wanted to become plumbers and were struggling to do so. I stood on stage and vowed to create an army of women plumbers who’d do things differently. Then, having said it in front of 250 people, I realised I had to do it!
How does it work?
Any householder can contact the register. Tradeswomen are verified through insurance and other ID. To safeguard tradeswomen and householders the register will pass householders’ details to the nearest best suited tradeswoman – householders don’t search. No leads are sold to the tradeswomen. The verified tradeswoman then contacts the householder and arranges to do the job. We hope this will enable vulnerable and other householders to choose tradeswomen (for whatever reason) to carry out work in their homes, to provide strong role models in the form of tradeswomen to householders and their children, to support and enable more women to train in trades and to provide training for women in the trades, to inspire vulnerable householders, abuse survivors and their children to train in trades and to increase the numbers of tradeswomen.
Tell me a bit about the charity work you've done in Kenya and why it's so important to you?
My charity work in Kenya. Women have always been the ones for whom water is most important — they fetch it, they carry it, they prepare the food, are responsible for their family’s health, clean water is simply their responsibility. For many women in the developing world, access to clean water and proper sanitation can still define their lives. A friend asked us to help by creating a rainwater harvesting system for the community home she runs in her village. So we did. Another friend is raising the standards of plumbing and for plumbers in Kenya and asked us for help, so we gave it.