EP 126

Redefining the Hard Hat: Stories from 16 Years as a Woman Working on Site (EP 126)



In the studio today, Paul is joined by Michelle Hands, a Construction Engineer👷‍♀️Public speaker 📣 Filmmaker & Content Creator and the Director of She who dares, WINS. 

Michelle has spent the last 16 years as a Construction Engineer/land Surveyor and, in addition to that, is now dedicating her time to help empower and inspire women who work in traditionally male-dominated fields with her She who dares WINS platform and YouTube channel.

In today’s honest conversation, Michelle shares some stories from her 16 years on-site as a woman, how things were, how things have changed and how the industry can be a more welcoming place for women.

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  1. Implications and Opportunities of a Design & Build Contract


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Paul Heming: Hello and welcome to episode 126 of the Own the Build Podcast with me, Paul Heming. As last week and as per the last few weeks, we’re continuing our free download giveaway, today of LinkedIn eBook, which is called The Implications and Opportunities of a Design and Build Contracts. And within that you’ll get understanding of how to negotiate the key clauses, what DMB means in terms of your responsibilities, and most importantly, in my opinion, how to respond to comments during the design phase. If you work on a DMB project today, or you’re about to start one, check it out free. And let me know what you think of it. In the studio there, enough of that design and build baloney. In the studio today I’m joined, I’m really pleased and delighted to be joined by Michelle Hans, who is a construction engineer, a public speaker, a filmmaker, a content creator. I’m getting tired just listing these out and the director of ‘she who dares wins’. Michelle has spent over 16 years as an engineer, Lance Vera, as I mentioned, and in addition to that, is now dedicating her time to empower and inspire women who work in male dominated fields. I think construction might be one, but we’ll soon find out. I’ve really enjoyed, honestly looking at a lot of the content that Michelle has shared. That’s why we’re sat here today anyway, Michelle, how’s it going? Welcome to Own the Build.

Michelle Hans: Good, thank you very much for inviting me. And that was one hell of an intro.

Paul Heming: It was, I mean, when someone’s got such an impressive CV, you have to rattle it out, but you’ve been doing a lot and we’ll kind of get to that. Is that a followers of the show, Michelle? No, that I love an accent. They also know that I’m from the Midlands. Is that a cheeky bro me accent, now can it hear, hidden away there?

Michelle Hans: Yeah, it’s been tried. I’ve tried to disguise it. It comes out.

Paul Heming: Don’t do it. Let it out. Let it roll.

Michelle Hans: Yeah, I grew up in Birmingham, south Birmingham and then moved when I was about 28 I think.

Paul Heming: Excellent. Well, my dad is from South Birmingham and Alabama, so I’m happy with that. Enough about the accents. Talk to me and talk to us, I should say, about your construction journey, what you’re doing today, and kind of how you got there.

Michelle Hans: So I guess to go to the start, I came out of university, I did geography degree, weirdly enough, went to film school in America because I thought I was going to be the next Julia Roberts. And that didn’t really work out for me. And on my return, a friend of my brother’s said that there was a job going in the company he worked for, which was freelance and it was kind of materials testing and quality assurance on a landfill site. So the construction side of things, and with zero knowledge of that and zero knowledge of construction, but a desperate need to earn some money I said I’ll give it a go. 

Paul Heming: That’s quite changed. Michelle from Julia Roberts to… 

Michelle Hans: Yeah, to landfill as well. So like literally from Hollywood to the rubbish, then you couldn’t write, this is exactly what happened to me.

Paul Heming: So you’ve just given us the name of this episode. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah. It was a rude awakening. I mean it was a good one. It was great. I started, didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Had this huge folder with all this like technical information in and just kind of threw myself into it. And it was a very niche industry and not a lot of people were doing the job, so if they got hold of you, they were kind of desperate to keep you which was a really good thing for me. So I worked in that industry for roughly probably about seven years. And then I decided at that point that the waste industry was starting to slow up a little bit and I wanted to get into mainstream construction. So I retrained as a setting out stroke site engineer, stroke land surveyor, and then jumped on my first big project, which was the Nottingham Tram.

Paul Heming: Nice. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah, it was good. It was good. And then again, it was another one of those sink or swim. I remember my first interview with the project manager and they’d gone through a lot of engineers again, pretty desperate. And he kind of said to me, he like, your experience isn’t in this area, but I’ll give you two weeks sink or swim and took the challenge on again. 

Paul Heming: Really? 

Michelle Hans: Yeah, totally. It’s just, I feel like I’m drawn to these stupid crazy situations where it’s like you get one chance. It was a great project to work on tier one project Taylor Woodrow and Vinci. And it taught me so much about huge mainstream projects. And then from there moved up to Leeds, worked in the housing sector, building houses, doing roads, drainage foundations, then jumped slightly more over into land surveying and doing drawings and then post children. So I had two boys and then I got drawn back weirdly into the waste industry as a land surveyor. So I ended up where I started. 

Paul Heming: Full circle. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah, a bit of bittersweet. And now I, through all the social media stuff that’s been going on with construction and lots of people wanting to know what it’s like being a woman in construction and how do we change certain elements of the industry to allow more women to come in. Like I say, do public speaking, which you mentioned and well, I also work for a company. I have to give them a shout out, otherwise they’d kill me. PQS Tech in Leeds who are really supportive and with them, what I do is social media content for construction and we’re looking at the future of construction and digital construction and how that’s going to help companies.

Paul Heming: It’s interesting the way that you describe how you started in construction because although, I mean it is quite an unusual path that you took, it’s not dissimilar to the path that I took in. I had no intention to go into construction. I wanted to be a journalist, didn’t become a journalist, and then, because I couldn’t be bothered to go to uni, blah, blah, blah, blah, who cares. But saw an advert for trainee Qs, took the advert up, asked my mate, what on earth is that? And he said, oh, don’t do that. You don’t want to be in construction, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And kind of just fell into the industry and it sounds very similar to how you kind of just ended up in the industry. Why did you decide to stick with construction? Because it’s quite a jump from Hollywood to landfill as you eloquently put it. But you know, like what is it about construction that made you say, oh, this is actually a bit of me, I quite like this.

Michelle Hans: Do you know what it was? I think the storytelling and the creative side of me has always been there and weirdly enough, so I’ve continued over the years to kind of still make films or social media is effectively you’re making films like the YouTube channel that I’ve got very much focused on and you can’t tell a great story without experience. And that’s something I didn’t have when I went to film school life experience and what better industry to give you real slap in the face life experience than construction. But not only that, like I guess looking at my personality, I don’t like being put on a desk. I like a challenge and I love people and construction has so many different people from different walks of life. And when I started to work, the characters that I started to work with, it was like being in a movie weirdly enough. Now I think back on it, the last 17 years, the stuff that’s happened and the experiences and the situations and the stories is incredible. And as much as I’d love to sit here and say its construction and engineering, I love it. I do love building and I think it’s a very challenging job and it’s a very rewarding job, but also love the feet, the people. And it’s difficult again because I say I love the culture, but I think the culture is broken and it doesn’t need changing. But yeah, it really has been, it’s about the people and you know, you’re working on big projects, lots of different personalities at all different levels. And for me that was really interesting how the dynamics of how those people work.

Paul Heming: I actually think that I really love construction for the end product and also the opportunity, there’s so much that can actually be improved about construction, which is one of the things I actually love about. You’d think that it’d be one of the things that would be a drawback is that you think, ah, why isn’t it better? Can’t we do better? But I actually find that quite, it draws me in. I think we could make it a better space. You talked about really loving the people in construction. We actually, I think you’ve been in construction for 16, 17 years, which almost identical to me we came in exactly the same time pretty much. What have you seen change in construction in the 16, 17 years that you’ve been a part of it?

Michelle Hans: Just lately, I would say its like technology is quite exciting. That’s why I’m quite enjoying that new look at things like the technology that’s coming in that’s helping projects. That’s really exciting and that’s something that I’ve not really seen until recently. In terms of culture, I wish there was so much more. It is changing slowly. We are seeing more for example, women on sites, which is great. And I think there’s a long way to go. We need to try and keep those women on sites. I have a lot of stories and people when they contact me via email and they exit construction because the culture is broken. And what I mean by broken is you probably have experienced is the bullying, the sexist comments, the harassment. And to be honest with you, it’s not always just at women, it makes it hard because you are the only one on site. So you kind of feel it more. But I’ve seen over the years, I’ve seen men bullied, grown men bullied. I’ve seen grown men cry, I’ve seen because it is a really harsh environment. The pressures are immense and I think statistically it has one of the highest suicide rates. I was at an event, it was like the petrol floor court awards six months ago and the opening kind of video on these awards was a guy who took his own life. And you go through construction and you see what the problems are. I think companies are slowly trying to eradicate these big issues that do exist, but we have so far to go. 

Paul Heming: But if you talked about loving the characters, loving the people, it’s a strange dichotomy, then that at the same time it sounds, well, we can all attest to it. There’s also quite a frustration with a lot of the characters actually in construction that we will all have experienced on site, male, female, whatever, where we’ve been on site and there is, I don’t know, passive aggression, real aggression. There’s a lot of things on site. How do you kind of balance that out with like what you actually said was the, one of the reasons I love construction is the people. And then I’m guessing my experience is some of the people aren’t, haven’t been that great at different times where you see things on site. How do you balance those two emotions?

Michelle Hans: So I think for me it’s kind of, and this is what, when people say to me if it’s that bad, how can we’ve stuck with it for 17 years. And when I say to that if we’re going to look at it in some sort of pie chart, I’d say 80% of the time it’s amazing. And part of the culture is the Banta culture, which I love. And learning about people’s background. And then there is this probably eighties, a little bit, probably a bit lenient, I’d say probably 90% of the time it’s pretty good. But there is this…

Paul Heming: That’s one day a week, which is awful. 

Michelle Hans: It waits depending on what week you catch me. 

Paul Heming: Yeah. Today you’re just about to go on holiday so every day…

Michelle Hans: [Inaudible 11:37 – 11:40]. But the dark side seems to be really dark. So the situations that have been bad, have been really bad and you do see more and more of it. And it is interestingly to chat to people like yourself about this because I recently was talking to someone and they were asking me about characters in the industry and who I’ve had problems with. And you know what, Paul, looking back, they’ve been the kind of white collar construction worker, which shocks a lot of people. The guys on the ground initially, you get a bit of jib from, like, they’re quite, it is unusual to see a woman on site. So I would never take that away from them. Like that’s something they’ve never experienced. So a reaction that they have is perhaps not unwarranted. It’s a fact. And I try and be a bit of a realist when I think about these things. And also you’ve got to look at the types of characters, and I don’t want to be too general with this either, but that are in construction. So it does attract people that want to work on ground and certain life experiences. I have to be really careful when I talk about this, because yeah, you don’t want to pigeonhole people as to work in construction, but it’s open to everyone. And so you can’t control someone’s upbringing or someone’s thoughts on women being in construction or how people should be. But that’s when for me, it makes the companies that they’re working for have to step in. And at the moment I see a lot of companies just being blind to issues. You know, like everything from bullying. For example, if we’re going to get real, I’ve worked 17 years in the industry and I’ve only ever worked with one black person on site and I’ve never worked with someone who’s openly gay and I’ve worked on a lot of projects, thousands of thousands of men, people. Why is that? Like I’ve worked and seen lots of bullying, physical aggression, egos that is just like beyond.

Paul Heming: You still love the people. That’s the thing that, do you know, I’m not trying to put words in your, its funny, isn’t it? Because I know exactly how you feel about it, that there’s still… 

Michelle Hans: Because it’s real. 

Paul Heming: Yeah. And it’s a rich, it’s totally different amount of people that you meet. But I said this on a show, it was going back, no, it was episode 100 actually. And I had three female guests on the show. We were talking about being a woman in construction and Iris was reflecting on a conversation. My partner is worked her way up to now be project manager. She’s no longer working for this contractor, but she was at one point project manager of a subcontractor on a big, big project. We were all having, she invited me for drinks with the site team. After work, one of the site team who was a client said like almost pulled me to one side as we were chatting, it was kind of like, she’s really great, blah, blah, blah. She’s just maybe just man up a little bit. Like I said something along those lines. It’s not quite correct, but if she was just a bit tougher, a bit harder, everything, she’d be absolutely fine. I remember speaking to Anna about it, not there, but speaking to her afterwards and she was like, why on earth? But I have to man up or toughen up. What’s wrong with me just being myself? Why have I got to be this image that is wanted of me? Why have I got to be like said person? I don’t know. It’s very hard for me to, when she said that to me, because he said it to me and I thought, yeah, that probably does make sense. She probably should toughen up a bit because I know her right, I know what she’s like. And then when she basically scolded me for it afterwards and it did make me think, yeah, God, she’s completely right. Why should she have to be different? I don’t know what your reflection on that is or what your experience is being a woman on site all day, every day.

Michelle Hans: Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing if she’s been able to kind of say true to herself and that is perfect. That’s everything that I’d want someone to do. If I’m going to be real, I blended into this, I blended into site to survive and especially in the early days at the age of 20, like I’d go to site no makeup, you wear an oversized hi-vis gear and I’d probably try my best to blend in. And again, that’s something that has been a personal growth for me is not doing that and not allowing things to be said and not carrying on with the jokes that have been on site and staying true to who I am. In fact, a friend of mine wrote a great article on kind of like how to survive in construction as a woman. And one of the points was do not change your personality to suit others because your personality has the skillset that allows you to do a great job. And if we start changing, you know what, we all become robots just to fit in.

Paul Heming: Which is exactly what I guess Anna was saying. Well, I was going to saying why do I have to get on the train tracks and act exactly the same as everyone else? But it must be incredibly difficult to do that, right?

Michelle Hans: Yeah. Oh, incredibly difficult. But the interesting things I see from the guys too, so I’ll see, I was going to say Qs, but I won’t… 

Paul Heming: Don’t slam a QS on this show. Whatever you do, Michelle.

Michelle Hans: You’re amazing.

Paul Heming: Everyone just presses pause off

Michelle Hans: Yeah, no, we’ll go with, actually I’ve never had a problem with the QS. We’ll just get… 

Paul Heming: QS is great. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah, it was a senior contracts manager and onsite was just this, not even powerhouse, just everyone was frightened of him. I don’t know whether that did work, like whether people worked harder for him out of fear, actually looking back I think he just got, people just didn’t respect him because it kindness or being approachable to it for me is like a number one priority… 

Paul Heming: Goes a long way. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah. You’ve got to get people, you’ve got to own team, construction is a team and if you can’t get team members on board, and this is one of the things I really struggled with when I jumped into project management. But going back to my initial point of he was shouting across site, all this stuff and then I heard him one day in the office and he wasn’t aware that I’d walked in and it’s that classic scenario of how he was talking to his wife on the phone and he went from like this to…

Paul Heming: Hello?

Michelle Hans: Yeah. Like, oh, I’m really sorry. Oh yeah, sure, okay, I’ll pick that up and it’s so hot and I was like, who is this person? And I know we’ve all got, we have all different, got different personalities from home to work. But I was like, why, why can’t we be true to ourselves? And it’s interesting. Yeah. And so me, I saw a lot of, actually to be fair, you see and what’s quite nice is sometimes when you get construction workers on their own and I don’t know whether it’s just because of a woman, but they open up and you do see a different, I’ve seen a different side to personalities and then they step out the door, it just becomes someone else.

Paul Heming: That’s being on the football terraces.

Michelle Hans: Yeah. It’s madness. 

Paul Heming: Indeed. So in the second half of the show I want to talk to you about ‘she who dares wins’ and what you’re trying to do and actually talk to you much more about being a woman on site. We’ll do that after this break.

So Michelle, talk to me about she who dares wins. 

Michelle Hans: So she who dares wins originally my social media for sharing the stories about construction sites was branded. This is a man’s world. And then I realized it was quite a negative connotation even though it was kind of true for me at the time. But a lot of women started to connect to me when I was being kind of brutally honest and doing YouTube videos about being on site and experiences I’ve had, they’d reach out to me and so she who dares wins basically was a switch on that, this is the man’s world to, so I think actually someone said to me one day on site why do you still do this? And I was like she who dares wins. Like it’s a very good career to have. It’s given me a lot and it’s a wonderful career to have. So I started off during lockdown when kind of sites were shut in just connecting back up with women. And what I found was not every woman worked in construction, but every woman still resonated with my story of kind of like forging your own path and not being able to see someone who has done what you’ve done before. So obviously there’s been women in construction that still were when I started out, but social media wasn’t really that prevalent. And also a lot of women that work in construction for companies don’t feel like they can tell their stories, whereas I swear here, but I think you’d give. Because I was freelance and I had this whole, I think always in the background I’m a storyteller so I was like these are giving me life experience and stories, so I’m going to share them. And so she who dares wins started and I just put on a few designs on hoodies and t-shirts so that anyone that wasn’t in construction could feel part of the…

Paul Heming: It’s really cool branding by the way. I’m a big fan. 

Michelle Hans: Thanks. 

Paul Heming: No, it’s really, really cool.

Michelle Hans: It took a lot of work and it’s an industry that has killed me really. Like going into a prowl because I didn’t just want to get a t-shirt and just slap a logo on it. Like I want it to be really thoughtful and well designed and the actual product to be really good. So yeah, that was a new kind of avenue as well as I had the podcast, which is about to start back up again. And that’s for me is just finding those women who have forged their own path in whatever industry and bringing them to the forefront, sharing their stories so that it can help empower and inspire others.

Paul Heming: And what stories have you told that have kind of like resonated the most? What are the things where people have come back and said, yes, that is, I’ve experienced that, or… 

Michelle Hans: I guess for a big one that’s not too dark. It’s the real classic one is, is just the site toilet issue. So it’s not too grim, but when you, no, it’s not but the right grim stories we won’t get there. So when you turn upon site, when I started out there was never a lady’s toilet. And then gradually a lady’s toilet would be introduced and there’d be a key holder and the key holder would say, oh, here’s your toilet. Then you can be the key holder and then you… 

Paul Heming: And you’d have it literally to yourself.

Michelle Hans: No, of course not. So you’d start using it, you think, wonderful, this is clean. But actually what it was, and this is a real simple thing for companies to fix, but they just don’t think of it. And it’s one of those things, it’s always the stalk cup. So you open the door and you’re fighting with toilet rolls and broomsticks just to go in and use the toilet and it’s just like, ugh. And then what you find out is a couple of days later you go in, you think, hold on a minute, somebody’s been in here. And someone on site has the second key and it’s normally the manager. Because he’s like, well you know, I’m going to use a clean toilet, but then doesn’t think to clean it. And every woman will resonate with this. There’s one woman out there when I’ve done any public speaking that’s come up and said, I can’t relate to that story. It’s just a classic story. And that is real simple thing to, when you turn up on site and you’ve got to share a male toilet and think about, oh, I’ve got to nip in and make sure that no one’s coming in behind me. I’ve got to make sure that, and then there’s the, obviously the rhinos before the cubicles, there’s all these things going on. You’re thinking one simple task that no one else has to deal with on daily basis and yet this is like the one thing. And then from there it can escalate to, we’re going back to talking about people that you work with. I’ve worked with a lot of criminals and for me the kind of worry is the safeguarding. So I’ve been extremely lucky and I think possibly I’ve read and watched too many things over the years, but I have been in situations where, so for example, I was on a site once and I was working with a guy on my own with him and he had just come out of prison for manslaughter. And I found out there and then there was no safeguard and I was in my early twenties, there was no safeguarding of, oh, by the way you’re going to be working with this guy. He’s got a group, none of that. 

Paul Heming: [Inaudible 24:28 – 24:29]

Michelle Hans: Yeah. None of that just, I found out through general conversation and then middle of the field with nowhere to go. There was someone else that I worked with quite a few sex offenders. That’s pretty scary because you know, again, you’re not made aware of it. And quite a lot of drug lords, I guess, I feel like if ever worked for the police, like I could just, and I would never. [Cross talk 24:50 – 24:55]. Yeah, that’s the worry. And yeah, it’s funny sometimes and I do try and make things funny but also the serious side. So yeah, I worked with guys that would turn up in like really expensive cars with bricklayers and then you’d learn about their grow that they’d had that was making them five to 10 K a month than it, it is more common than you think. And then there’s been some really, like, the classic ones of, people want to get a reaction out of you if they don’t know you. Being thrust a phone which has got pornographic images on it or live porn and have you seen this just to get a reaction. And I think I’ve… 

Paul Heming: Because you’re a woman you mean?

Michelle Hans: Yeah, because you’re a woman or walking into a cabin, this doesn’t happen so much anymore, but in my early years I used to walk into a cabin, it was just full of page three all over the walls and it’s just like, why? 

Paul Heming: Come on. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah. For me it kind of water off the ducks back because I think I became desensitized to it very quickly, but I can imagine any new women coming into the industry like it can make you feel uncomfortable and you’re just there to do a job.

Paul Heming: Yeah. I mean it does strike me in terms of the small changes that page three phenomena, I mean page three I think is a thing of the past full stop, is it? But that feels like that as the world has moved past that kind of a feeling. But just listening to what you said, it does make me wonder if we, women were listening to this, like young woman thinking about her career, they’d probably think, well, that’s not a place for me. And less than 11% of women of construction workers are women. Right? And I know from the mapping of our, my podcast, it’s 13% of female listening. So it’s pretty much the same, right? Well you’re a little bit better, but it’s the same. It might sound like a stupid question in the context of what you’ve just explained, but because to me, I mean it doesn’t sound like a great place for a man to come into work. Right? If I was at school, would they, oh there, that’s a bit of me. But why do you think women aren’t coming into construction and is she, is the passion behind she who dares wins actually to say, come on, it’s not that bad. Like it’s difficult, isn’t it?

Michelle Hans: Yeah, it is difficult and it’s one that people like, again, why if it’s so bad, why have you been in it and why do you want people to come into it? Because for me it’s chicken and the egg. You can’t just switch the culture. You cannot just switch the culture. The only way the culture is going to change is by bringing more women in. Unfortunately those women that come in initially, they’re going to have to realize that they’re changing history because by coming in you are going to help enable change. And that’s important to say. Like any women that I do speak to, I’m like, I know it’s going to be hard, but if you come in, you are paving the way for the others 10, 15, 20 years and you’ve got to be up to that. Because I think that you’ve got to take that on board. Yeah. Looking now from a mother’s perspective, I don’t think, I was never shown women on construction site. I get people walk past little kids and they’re shocked to see a woman on the construction site. So it’s all about, it’s media and I think this is a good thing with Instagram, TikTok, all that kind of thing is we’re getting more exposure and I think for a girl to see someone else that looks like her on site or watch a video where there’s someone building something that’s going to change and that’s going to be where the big push is for, you know, you said you’ve got quite a heavily male dominated listening audience. A simple little things, like I chat to quite a few guys at work and when they say they’ve listened to me talking about, I didn’t realize, there’s so many tiny little things that personally people can do which make a huge impact. For example, emails, you know when there’s five of you in a meeting, you come out the meeting and there’s a follow up email and its titled gents, it might seem minuscule and to be honest with you, for me it doesn’t really bother me. But when you’ve had it for like 17 years, then it does kind of just think, oh, is it so hard to just put hi everyone or team, it’s like two words. But instead what you’ve done is gents, you’ve just alienated me because you pushed me. 

Paul Heming: Is that how that feels?

Michelle Hans: Yeah, of course it does. Like I’m not a gent. So it’s basically like, I wouldn’t want Gent plus Michelle because then that innate alienates you but just put team, everyone, guys, like even guy I call everyone I don’t, it’s a Birmingham thing. I’m like guys, guys… 

Paul Heming: I was just about to say guys as well. I thought, I wonder if I can. Yeah. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah, no, hey guys. Yeah like that is not but gents, it’s like I’m not 40, 40 feet on Cleveland’s 40 but I’m not a right middle age man. 

Paul Heming: That could be my question because I think, yeah, so this is a male dominated audience. 87% of listeners are male and it’s a male dominated industry. So my question was going to be, you’ve kind of contextualized a lot of the things that you kind of subconsciously know have go on, on site I guess as a man. But like just some of the examples you’ve gone have made you think do, have made me think I should say, ugh, it’s just when you put it out in the plane light of dating, that isn’t a particularly attractive thing to think about. I was going to ask you what, you’ve given a really nice example there with the gents email thing. What advice would you give to people listening about what they could do to just make things a bit better every single day on site? Forgetting about the companies, what should they be doing on a macro level, if that’s the right word? What can everyone do on a micro level in a similar way to the gent’s thing to just make the place better for everyone?

Michelle Hans: I think it’s just a little bit of thought. I think we get conditioned, don’t we, when we’ve been doing something for so long and you’ve acted a certain way in front of certain people and then you might have a female on certain, it’s interesting because you don’t want to go the other way. So you then don’t want to kind of make a point of, oh you know, is it okay if I swear like. Do you know what I mean? Like you get the other… 

Paul Heming: You’ve already sworn on this Michelle, we know it’s alright to say.

Michelle Hans: Said that. Yeah, it’s come to the industry, isn’t it? That’s one thing I wouldn’t want to change. And yeah, so don’t purposely go out your way to be like, oh, there’s a woman on site because that is equally as irritating as hell because you’re just pointing me out. But it’s simple things. I do often say, and I say it ingest with kind of a bit of a sharp tongue to some guys is when they’ve said something massively inappropriate, I’ve been like, well you know, would you say that to your wife or your girlfriend or even your daughter? Because nine times out of 10 I’m the same age as their daughter and that kind of makes them go ooh and gives them a little bit of thought. But in terms of, if you’ve got someone that doesn’t come out with the crew comments and doesn’t harass or you’ll go anywhere near that. Just the little things like the emails, just giving things a little bit of thought. And a good one for me is I’ve been on certain amount of projects and I’ve had, not champions, but a good support network. So if you’re a male and you are working with another female who might be younger, doesn’t know the industry so well, it’s nice when someone comes up to you or for example actually not comes up to you, if you’re in a certain situation that’s happened to me where something’s been said that’s massively inappropriate before I’ve even had chance to say something, someone has come up and said, I think you’re out of order there mate. That’s quite nice. So again, it’s down to personal preferences, but when you feel like you are backed up, that makes it so much easier.

Paul Heming: Yeah and that is perhaps the easier option is just to stay quiet, isn’t it, on the side. But if you know something’s not right, just call it out and back someone up. Is it, do you still feel, does it feel like you are one of 11% of women on site or do you feel like you’re still really isolated like that? It feels less than that.

Michelle Hans: Yeah, it is isolated. I think if you are in a job, I’m a site engineer so by trade there’s, you know, you’re out marking, there’s only ever one engineer on site anyway. And unless you’re working on a huge project where there’s a lot, so I’ve worked typically on small to mid-sized contracts and you are the one site engineer. So nine times out of 10 it’s just me. But I am seeing, I did a project recently this barn build and there are a lot of women from different big companies, tier one companies and they’ve got a lot of girls and a lot of women. And whether they be in the office or in the field, I feel like they have a good support system just because there is more of them. So I think that is really important. And I feel like the next generation of engineers are coming through, and this is really important is the older generation are affecting younger generation because they see and they follow what’s been done in the culture. Whereas actually the younger ones, they don’t bat an eyelid when they see you because it’s like, well, there might have been a girl at Courage College or whatever. It’s just, it’s this and I’m hoping this, yeah, I’m hoping this band of like, again, it’s hard to not be too generalist but like 40 plus traditional construction workers to get kind of, once that’s out the way I think the culture will shift a little bit because yeah, people don’t really care.

Paul Heming: And are you optimistic about the future?

Michelle Hans: Yeah, you have to be, don’t you? I mean, I would still be in it if I wasn’t, I am seeing change. I just wish that the bigger companies don’t kind of fall into the pitfall of, we’re helping women in construction, we’re getting more women in construction and actually they’re not willing to face the real hard talking problems. So for example, I’ve done some public speaking down in London and it’s a big construction event and they’ll have a guy who’s saying, we’re getting women into construction. We’ve got a support system for them. We’ve got like HR, they can go and talk if there’s any problems and these are massive companies and we’re doing, and then they put the pictures up of the women, the promoting the women, the promoting the women. And actually we do want promoting because we want other women to see us. And it’s hard because I’m in social media, so we’re promote, but equally let’s just crack on with the job. Let’s just, yeah, you’ve got women great. Like don’t use it as leverage to be like, it’s like sustainability, isn’t it? Sustainability, like we doing, are you doing it or are you doing it because it on the balance sheet, it helps with tax and that’ll always be the case that has to be an advantage for someone. But after these events, what happens to me is women will come up to me and say I work for that company and actually last week and… 

Paul Heming: Roll their eyes. 

Michelle Hans: So and so exposed them self to me on site. I reported it to HR or I didn’t want to report it to HR. Because… 

Paul Heming: Seriously? 

Michelle Hans: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Even still. I didn’t want to report it to HR because the guy who’s in charge is a guy who’s, which woman who’s been exposed to, wants to go and then tell their boss who’s the guy, again.

Paul Heming: Is that really a thing that has happened? 

Michelle Hans: Yeah, all good. 

Paul Heming: As it happens to you. 

Michelle Hans: Yeah. Oh good. Yeah.

Paul Heming: It’s insane, isn’t it?

Michelle Hans: Oh yeah. And these have happened to other women as well. So for example, there’s another woman who was getting pestered on a housing site and she was getting followed every night by her coworker into the compound where the materials were stored to a point where it was stalking and something serious obviously was on his mind, was making comments, was physically touching her. She reported it, and this is really common in construction, she got moved because they don’t know how to deal with the problem and you are the minority. And so it was like she was moved onto another site and this is really common. She was moved onto another site and then effectively kind of forced out of the job because imagine that someone does that to you and then you are moved, you feel like you’ve not, that person’s got away with it and you’re the problem.

Paul Heming: Yeah. I have to say it’s eye opening just to hear you talk about people exposing themselves and stories like that which as a man never had, never been an issue whatsoever. It’s like hard to even comprehend that as a thought. You talked about physicality of sight, the aggression on site at times, but to have to even contemplate dealing with something like that is ridiculous to be honest with you. I find it quite hard to digest. But what I will say is this has been a quite abnormal episode of own the build in the context of, we usually sat here to about really geeky sad QSs things. And that hasn’t been what we’ve done today, but I think that actually people listening will, in the same way I have, will have taken away quite a bit from this in terms of just how you mirror what your normal day-to-day approach to site or whatever is because, and perhaps change their mentality a little bit because I wasn’t expecting necessarily for that to have happened, but just some of the things that you’ve said have made me think we’ve got to be so much better really.

Michelle Hans: Yeah. And I don’t think we’re the only industry. I think there’s plenty of other industries out there. I was talking to one recently who is an architect and apparently the drop-off in the architect sectors huge because unless you can commit to like seven till six every night, five days a week, you’ve got no chance of becoming a director. So construction is only my experience. But I think we can learn from other sectors and like I say just even on a personal level, there’s so much we can do.

Paul Heming: Hundred percent. And I will obviously share details of your YouTube channel and the website ‘she who dare wins’. And all that left to be said is thank you for coming on and your honesty and your candor. It’s been really good to chat to a fellow rummy as well.

Michelle Hans: Exactly. Yeah. From the best. 

Paul Heming: Stop hiding that accent. I don’t care what the Yorkshire men and women tell you, get that rummy accent out there.

Michelle Hans: Yeah. They’re very, very stern up here on Yorkshires God’s country. So you kind of have to go with it or get chopped out.

Paul Heming: Well, excellent. It’s been a real pleasure to have you on the show, Michelle. I will speak to you again soon. 

Michelle Hans: Alright. Cheers.

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