The Advice and Experiences of Five Women in Painting and Decorating
Women are still vastly underrepresented in the construction sector, making up only 20% of the workforce. This disparity is felt even more acutely in the subsector of painting and decorating, where it’s estimated that only 7.2% of employees are women.
Not only are women disproportionately underrepresented in painting and decorating, but many report experiencing discrimination – 72%, in fact. If that fact wasn’t stark enough, just 16% report having access to female toilets when working on construction sites; 11% said they’d never had access to a women’s toilet onsite.
This International Women’s Day, we want to highlight the strong talented women paving (or painting) the way for young female workers looking to get into the sector.
Here, five women working in varying roles at painting and decorating contractor Bagnalls discuss their experiences in the sector, as well as the challenges they’ve faced and their biggest successes.
Joanne Gualda: Group Marketing Director
Abi Johnson: painter and decorator
Jane Potter: Branch Manager, Leeds and York
Katie Booth: Contracts Manager, Wolverhampton
Becky Slater: Head of Safety, Health, Environmental and Quality (SHEQ)
How did you get into painting and decorating – and was it planned?
Joanne: I was approached by an ex-Managing Director of mine who was doing some consultancy work for Bagnalls, which was looking for a specialist in marketing. I didn’t even realise that Bagnalls was a national painting contractor and undertook such huge contracts until I did background research for my interview!
Jane: When I was younger, I used to help my mum do the decorating at home and I always had her influence growing up. One day at school, we had a talk from someone about apprenticeships in the sector and it seemed a very natural way to go. Here I am, over 30 years later!
Abi: When I left school, I didn’t want to sit behind a desk or work in retail. I wanted something more active and engaging, so an apprenticeship fit the bill perfectly. Once I met Stephen Bagnall, Group Managing Director, I knew that a career with Bagnalls would be amazing. I set my sights high even before joining the company, telling Stephen that I wanted to join the board eventually.
Katie: I’ve always been interested in the property market and architecture. Whilst renovating my own property I took a very hands-on approach to managing the works, hiring contractors, and scheduling the stages of the project myself and found I enjoyed the process. I applied on LinkedIn as I had relevant skills and experience and the rest is history. I’ve also completed the Management Trainee programme here, which is an incredible way to further my career.
Becky: My Dad worked in quarrying, and growing up I always found it interesting, so it was a logical place to start my career. As I progressed, I began to step away from operational activities and moved into the environmental and safety management side of the business. When I moved to Bagnalls, it seemed an organic evolution of the steps I had been taking in my career to embark on a role that included SHEQ.
What are your biggest career highlights to date?
Katie: My involvement in the renovation of Resorts World in Birmingham was a definite highlight. The project was different, ambitious and creative, and went on to win the retail category of the Johnstone’s Trade Painter of the Year Award 2020.
Abi: Being invited to Slovenia in 2019 to take part in a charity event with the Painting and Decorating Association. We decorated a school as part of a community support project in the country. While there, we got to do wine tasting and tour the capital city, visiting the market and getting to see the local crafts and foods – all experiences I never would have got outside of my apprenticeship.
Jane: Competing in the WorldSkills Olympics in Amsterdam as an apprentice in 1990. As the only woman in my category, I came up against some backlash – other competitors complained that I’d be named the winner because I was the “token” female. I suggested that all names be removed from our work, meaning gender couldn’t play a role in our performance. That quickly put an end to those complaints; I was there to win on the basis of my skill and didn’t want to give my critics grounds to find fault if I won.
In the end, I got a bronze medal; at the time I was disappointed as I wanted gold, but looking back now, this was a huge achievement.
Joanne: Becoming the first female director appointed to the Bagnalls board in 2006. I’m also hugely proud of our Community Paintbrush Scheme, which I established in 2012; the scheme has helped so many organisations over the years through paint donations, volunteer painters and charitable support. I’m also a trained Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) – mental health is something I’m passionate about, and I’ve been involved in more throughout the past couple of years.
Becky: I formed part of the team at Bagnalls responsible for adapting to COVID-19, which carried a lot of pressure but was also rewarding to implement successfully. The impact of my work was that our staff and customers remained safe throughout and Bagnalls carried on its legacy of responsible work.
Tell us about the biggest challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame them.
Jane: An important lesson I learnt is that you can do it – but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. My colleagues at all levels are so supportive and there are times I need to ask for their support and engagement. I know that when asked, a colleague will help me achieve my goals and vice versa.
Abi: Adjusting to the pandemic and a completely new way of work was a struggle at first. We’re always strict with hygiene and health and safety, but the pandemic brought that to a whole new level and changed the way we operate day-to-day. I like having a routine – so having it thrown off during those first few months took some adjusting to, but I overcame it.
Joanne: When it comes to challenges in my career, there have been a few, I started work in 1990 when the standards of equality and behaviour in the workplace today were quite different. This ranged from lewd comments and subtle remarks about women being successful. I’ve persevered and proven my worth and as such, I’ve been recognised and rewarded. At Bagnalls I have completed an MA, been promoted, and had a daughter.
Becky: Joining Bagnalls at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, because our standard project schedules and methods of work were turned completely upside down. I’ve learned a lot about taking things one day at a time and ensuring that all the decisions we made continued to prioritise the safety of our staff and customers.
Katie: Starting a new role with no experience in the sector was a challenge for me – a welcome one! There’s a noticeable lack of women in painting and decorating, and I occasionally receive sweeping statements or surprised reactions when people find out a woman is managing their project, however, I prove with time on the job what I’m capable of.
For women looking to get into painting and decorating, what advice would you give them?
Joanne: Don’t pre-judge the sector. The painting industry is so vast – from working with major blue-chip companies such as Akzo Nobel (Dulux) through to small scaffolding companies, the roles for women are vast. Bagnalls is proof that there are so many opportunities for women and no role is off-limits, from being a painter on-site to a Board Director. Whether you start as an apprentice, school leaver or graduate, this is an industry where, with the right training and development, you can become supervisors, managers and even directors of the future.
Jane: Get stuck in! Don’t be afraid to take opportunities as they come – understand what you want to achieve and grab it with both hands. There are so many great possibilities for people to join the sector regardless of age and gender; seize them!
Katie: Be yourself and always strive to be the best you can be. Stay up to date with the latest qualifications, industry standards and management skills as the time you invest in these will be invaluable. At the same time stay one step ahead and don’t shy away from opportunities as they arise; remember that everyone is human and it’s okay to make mistakes as you learn.
Becky: Be confident, believe in yourself and never be afraid to ask questions.
Abi: You’ll need thick skin sometimes in such a male-dominated industry – but do it. The people at Bagnalls have been lovely and even though I’m often the only woman in a given situation, I’m rarely made to feel excluded or like I’m facing any prejudice. My overall experience within the industry has been extremely rewarding and given me so many incredible opportunities that I don’t regret it at all. In short, just go for it – we need more women in painting and decorating!