In this week’s blog, we spoke to Ellie Chapman, Communications & Research Executive at Timber Trade Federation. She shares her experiences of working in a male-dominated industry and her successful efforts to raise awareness for women in construction. We’re incredibly proud to feature Ellie Chapman on this week’s edition of #YesSheCan.
What made you choose this career/industry?
Like many people, I sort of fell into the construction industry. At the time I didn’t really consider the timber trade as being in the construction industry. If someone had told me I would be working in this industry I’d have raised my eyebrows in confusion – I’m not a builder! It wasn’t until I went to the UK Construction Week event last year that I appreciated the diversity of work and people in construction.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
After I graduated from university I worked for a large insurance and pensions company but I quickly realised that it was not my dream job.
I was fortunate to be living in London so had access to a range of industries and jobs. I applied for the job at the Timber Trade Federation with all my fingers crossed. I have a passion for the environment and sustainability, and so I focused on the economics of climate change for my degree, so talking about the importance of trees sounded like a pretty good deal.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
I knew there were great female role models in the timber industry, they just weren’t being highlighted. So, I proposed and initiated the Timber Trade Federation’s (TTF) first-ever International Women's Day celebrations by launching Joanna Foat's book “Lumberjills: Britain's Forgotten Army” at our UK Softwood Conference 2019. The Lumberjills were women who kept Britain's timber industry going, proving themselves as strong as any man. The conference saw a record number of women attending a TTF conference in our whole 125-year history, with 115% more people attending than in 2017.
A future initiative I want to be more involved in is mental health awareness. I’m very proud of the construction industry for its recent embracing of mental health awareness. When I’m not working, running or dodging buses on my bike, I volunteer as a Marketing Officer at a local mental health charity, Sound Minds. Sound Minds is a charity transforming the lives of people experiencing mental ill-health through music, film and art.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
Growing up, I was fortunate to be blind to gender stereotypes. I had a slightly different upbringing where my parents swapped the ‘stereotypical’ gender roles. My mum worked full time whilst my dad went part time. Whilst this is becoming normal now, back in the 1990s it was still questioned.
My mum has been a strong role model for many women, not just me and my sister.
‘Growing up, I was fortunate to be blind to gender stereotypes.’
What’s great about being a female in your role?
For me, a great thing about being a female in my role is being a role model for the future generations of women wanting to pursue a career in the industry. That’s why I initiated and lead the Lumberjills campaign for the TTF’s UK Softwood Conference in March earlier this year. I knew there were fantastic female role models out there, they just weren’t being highlighted enough.
Through the Lumberjills campaign, Joanna Foat launched her first ever book: Lumberjills: Britain’s Forgotten Army. Joanna shared the stories of the women who were running UK sawmills during WW2 whilst the men were at war. This was a great eye-opener for everyone at the conference as these women showed they were just as smart and strong as any man in the timber industry. This made me incredibly proud of being a female in the industry.
What is your biggest achievement in life?
My biggest achievement so far was completing my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. I was incredibly proud to be in the first all-female Gold Duke of Edinburgh group and the first female to complete their Bronze, Silver and Gold Duke of Edinburgh award at my school. All my hard work and dedication finally paid off and I was delighted to see the path it created for the younger students. My school now has record numbers of girls working towards their Duke of Edinburgh awards.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
I work in the timber trade, so the gender divide is very visible. I’m often one of two women in 30+ people in meetings. Whilst there have been frustrating times, I feel this industry is taking huge leaps to encourage more women into the industry by highlighting successful women in male-typical roles, like the Lumberjills!
‘I’m often one of two women in 30+ people in meetings.’
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
It’s okay to say no. - If you’re busy and your pile of work is stacking higher and higher each day, say something! I’ve often been a ‘yes man’ because I’d always say yes to helping someone, even if I didn’t have enough time on my plate. I’ve learnt now to manage my workload better and ensure I maintain a balance of helping my colleagues but also knowing when to prioritise myself.
Seek out other women! - You don’t have to be in the same job or even in the same career path but having that network of women can really help build your confidence and you can learn invaluable skills to develop your career.
Any training is good training! - If you’re being offered training, take it up. Even if it’s not relevant to your career, they’re a great chance to build on your network and group skills. Some of the best training sessions were ones completely irrelevant to my job but allowed me to develop my presentation skills (even if I was talking about something I had zero interest in!).
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
My mum has been a huge influence in my life. Growing up, my mum was the main breadwinner.
It wasn’t until I started working that I appreciated the barriers my mum must have faced growing her career. She worked her way up to very senior levels and, working in male-dominated industries, I feel this couldn’t have been so easy for her. She is the person I always speak to with work-related issues. She is incredibly understanding and always has plenty of advice to give.
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
I think there has been significant improvements towards addressing the gender imbalance, even in the few years I’ve been working! Every year you see more and more companies celebrating International Women’s Day and highlighting their female colleagues. Certainly, the construction industry, which is typically perceived as a male industry, is making huge steps to address not only gender diversity but also LGBTQ diversity and mental health awareness.
Ellie Chapman's noble quest to raise awareness and tackle mental health issues in construction is inspiring! If you're interested in reading about more inspirational women in construction head over to our post on Christine Crawford, Builders Merchant.