The Truth About Life As A Tradeswoman In The UK

What is it really like working as a tradeswoman in the UK? This is one of the many questions My Job Quote asked in a survey of 20 tradeswomen aged between 16 and 60 to reveal the lack of diversity and a prevalence of out-dated attitudes.

On average, tradeswomen earn over 38% less than men. Despite the progression over the years for women in the workplace, there is still a 7.9% overall pay gap between men and women working in the UK. This gap is even more significant in the trades, with 42% of the surveyed tradeswomen stating that there is a significant difference between the pay for men and women.

Many of the participants were unsure of the pay gap, since salary discussions between colleagues is seen as a taboo subject. Three of the women surveyed are plumbers and heating engineers with salaries starting at £22,000. This is over £13,000 less than the average tradesman’s salary of £35,979.

Out of these three women, there was one outlier who earns £35,000 per year after working in the trades for over 11 years.


Discrimination in the workplace

Over 57% of tradeswomen experienced workplace discrimination. Often women feel like they are looked down on and won’t be given equal job roles as male employees.


 “Upon searching to work for other landscaping companies I was looked down on, was told that I would have to bear in mind that I would be using the same toilet as the men and that I would start on a lower wage as I wouldn’t be doing the main parts of the job, I would just be helping and making drinks.”

– Angela 



Too fat

When it comes to working in a male-dominated industry, many females feel objectified or sexualised in the workplace. Alternatively, they may be insulted for choosing to take on a role that has always been completed predominantly by men.

 “If you work on a site as a woman, they see you as either too blokey/fat/other to be the object of their sexual interest, so get harassed for something else instead; or you're young, fit and pretty and suddenly you're just the focus of their testosterone. That kind of behaviour is incredibly intimidating,” says Debbie a conservation specialist.

More than 68.4% of tradeswomen were subjected to sexist remarks from customers and clients.


Customer doubts

Since trades jobs have always been completed by mostly men, some customers feel like they can’t trust women to complete the work well, despite having the same training and qualifications as the men doing the same work.

“Customers have asked me to leave as I'm female. Some have called back in to have my work ‘checked’ and others have made sexual comments against me,” says Rachael, a gas engineer.

Some women can feel ignored on the job, as customers will direct their questions towards the male employees.

 “I work alongside my husband, both doing the same job and it's not unusual for customers to direct questions at my husband rather than me. Many don't believe that I am just as qualified as my husband,” says Jackie, a vehicle body repairer.


Why are there fewer women in the trades?

Only around 13% of tradespeople are women.

Some women feel like there hasn’t been much progression in the way jobs are advertised. Despite more employers actively reaching out to women for their vacancies, some jobs are still primarily targeted towards men.

The same goes when it comes to learning about jobs in school. However, schools are now more openly encouraging people to take on any job role, regardless of the previous stereotypes. There has been a huge change in the way children are being taught about work.


Physical ability

Women are often just as capable as men at completing heavy labour work. However, many people still don’t see this and believe that labour intensive work should be left to the men.

“Women have always been looked at as ‘the weaker sex’ and being on a site or turning up to a job a man ‘should’ be doing is difficult when you’re judged with comments like, ‘surely you should be on reception etc’,” says Sophie, a drainage engineer.


Unsuitable Equipment

Since trades have always been dominated by men, the equipment is often tailored to suit men. However, with the increase in female tradespeople, more and more manufacturers are creating ranges of equipment to help women. However, there is still an issue with this as it is often much more difficult to source equipment that is tailored to women in this field.

“More equipment/tools suitable for women would make life easier, I'm 5ft 1in and can never find protective boots etc. I would prefer it if plaster came in 20kg bags instead of 25kg. Things like that make trades discouraging,” says Karoline, a plasterer.


Lack of support

Many women feel like employers should be more open to supporting them in their job roles.

 “I've had three women start with me. None of them drive but they all need to be back for 3:00pm to get their kids from school and can't start until 8.45am. I think generally the way that the construction industry is arranged means that it's almost impossible for anyone who isn't an unencumbered, able-bodied male to be in the right set of circumstances to get a chance,” says Debbie, a conservation specialist.


The progression of female tradespeople

According to new research by the Chartered Institute of Building, three in five UK residents would hire a female tradesperson. Around one third of the people surveyed said they would prefer to hire a female tradesperson.

Helping to support the women in trades was the most popular reason for wanting to hire a female tradesperson. Some of those surveyed said that they would feel more at ease by having a woman carry out the work in their home.

The progression can be seen in the number of female tradespeople in the UK. In the past 5 years, there has been an increase of almost 400% in the number of young females taking on apprenticeships in engineering and construction.


Picture With thanks  to the Jessup Partnership: Michelle Howe, health and safety advisor, on-site at Jessup’s Lower Valley Road development in Dudley.

Article written by Cathryn Ellis
09th March 2023


Related Articles