Meet the Derbyshire women challenging gender-norms in male-dominated sectors as we celebrate International Women’s Day
Being a woman in a stereotypically male-orientated industry can often be a daunting prospect but these Derbyshire women are challenging gender-norms to bring a new approach to working within their trades locally.
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – with this year’s theme about challenging and calling out gender bias and inequality.
Sue Ready, founder of This Girl Can Paint in Chesterfield, had the idea to celebrate the day on March 8 by showcasing the ‘fabulous work women and girls do in the trade industry as there can still be many misconceptions that only men and boys can pick up a hammer, screwdriver or paint brush’.
Starting her career 20 years ago behind the trade counter at a builders merchant, she said it was ‘rare’ for women to be in the industry but that she quickly learnt to communicate and interact with the customers.
She said: “I picked up so much knowledge working there and was given the opportunity by my employer to attend a professional decorators course which ignited my fire for painting and decorating.”
Seventeen years later and Sue decided that she wanted to go back to what she loved and decided to switch careers just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“I’ve always loved painting, decorating, art and just being creative,” she added. “Deciding to become my own ‘boss’ was the scariest thing ever but I also had this feeling of being an imposter within a very male dominated sector.”
Kat Corbett from Pink Bristles, gave up a steady career as a secondary school teacher to pick up the brush full-time and create her own enterprise in Buxton.
She believes it is ‘vital that you enjoy doing what you do’ and loves nothing more than a peeling bathroom ceiling or rotten window frame, and once customers see how enthusiastic she is about the jobs they hate, they often book her back in to tackle more.
Elsewhere Nicola Lewis from Mrs Lewis’ Decorating is an award-winning decorator based in Matlock and said she is committed to raising awareness and the profile of women in the sector.
Established in 2017, the mother of two young children has managed to balance a busy homelife with the pressures associated with growing a successful business.
She said: “When I was a young girl I used to spend lots of time watching my Grandad, a skilled carpenter and a man who could turn his hand to anything.
"There was nothing he couldn’t create, fix or make to look beautiful. It was like magic happening before my eyes and this definitely sparked my love of decorating.
“I encourage any young woman to explore their trade passions and know that with the right attitude, dedication and integrity you can achieve absolutely anything.”
Courteney Hadala–Holmes is chasing her dream of becoming a painter and decorator and recently joined the This Girl Can Paint team.
She had been working in retail for 12 years and is currently studying Painting and Decorating at Chesterfield College.
“I thought about taking this step for many years but always put off taking the leap of faith and just stuck to what I knew,” the 29-year-old said.
"If lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that life is far too short. For anyone who may be in the same position as myself I urge you to go for it, do what makes you happy, it’s never too late.”
But, it’s not just the stereotypically male-orientated trades industry where women are forging a path for themselves.
Heather Watton, 37, is studying Construction at Chesterfield College and is just one of two females on the course alongside 17-year-old Lauren Smedley.
She previously held various roles managing charity shops, selling nuts and bolts, and was a hairdresser and beauty therapist by trade when she was younger.
But it was only after a serious road traffic accident that she eventually found herself in the construction industry and now works with chartered quantity surveyors CLoSE UK.
She said: “To be able to quantify something successfully, in my opinion, you have to be able to understand how it works. I work in a very male environment – there are other girls and I was one of the first in our office and there is another down south.
"We’re basically challenging ourselves and they’re allowing us to do that and are seeing us on the same level as our male counterparts.
"There’s no such thing as a female job or a male job, a job is a job and if your brain works and you understand it and it’s something you're passionate about then you shouldn’t ever let that hold you back.”
Lauren echoed a similar message, adding: “I knew I always wanted to do something along the construction lines… it’s always been at the back of my mind that it’s a males job but it never stopped me because it’s what I want to do.
"Gender definitely doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got the passion, the focus and you’re willing to adapt and learn.”
Lorraine Graley knows all too well of the barriers faced by women in stereotypically male-orientated idustries having worked in the construction sector for many years and now in motorcycling.
She owns and runs Triskelion Motorcycle Training Ltd in Chesterfield, surrounded by an all-male team.
"It’s the misconceptions. Within construction and motorcycling, it’s very much a male dominated world so you have to prove yourself more than a male would have to in your knowledge, ability, and things like that,” she said.
Giving her advice to others thinking of joining these type of industries, she added: “Don’t be scared. We have a great value to offer to these industries. We have a different touch and often a different understanding for the business.
“It’s being confident in your own ability… don’t allow other people to devalue you.”
For more information on International Women’s Day visit www.internationalwomensday.com.