I'm excited at the chance to blog after being shortlisted for this year's First Women Awards, in association with Lloyds Banking Group. I'm new to this, but want to approach it in the same spirit of adventure that all the women new to strawbale building bring to my courses. The statistics for women 'on the tools' in construction - that means actually doing it rather than managing or supervising - is pitifully small. And even more of a shock, this hasn't changed since I trained as a carpenter and joiner over 30 years ago. There are still less than 1% of women doing manual work on our building sites.
I find this hard to believe. Hard, because what on earth has our government and the CITB and the construction industry been doing about it all these years? And hard because I absolutely love my job, and can't understand why there aren't more women out there doing something similar.
Which brings me back to courses. My company, Straw Works, runs practical training courses on real building sites. We do a lot more than this too - designing and building houses, studios, visitor centres exclusively from natural materials. Most of our trainers are women and 50% of our course participants are usually women too. So how can we can be so spectacularly successful and yet the construction industry as a whole is such a despairing failure?
One of the main reasons is that we create an environment that is conducive to learning and welcoming to women as well as men. Early on in my career I realised that if I didn't create my own working environment with my own values and ethos, I'd have to stop doing the job that I loved because I'd be coping with other stuff that shouldn't be part of my working life - girly calendars in the office, chivalrous men taking my tools off me and doing the job for me, macho flouting of health and safety guidelines, and other things far worse. Most women who train in construction end up working for themselves if they survive at all, due to the atmosphere found on most building sites.
I've been determined to create a working environment for myself and my colleagues that reflects my values of cooperation, team working, high quality work, enjoyment of the job and the process and thankfully the feedback I get suggests I've achieved this. Many women who have never done any practical work come on our courses and learn how to build with straw and to plaster with clay and lime, and love it. So much so, they come back for more!
There are many reasons why women come on our courses, but one of them is that we offer the chance to work with natural materials instead of unnatural ones. I have long suspected that women are full of common sense, and this proves it - given a choice, women prefer to work with straw, clay and wood than with cement, plastic and fibreglass.
Other obvious reasons though are that we have female trainers, and this sends out the message that we are welcoming to other women joining our courses and demonstrates that we understand that women have different training needs to men. We don't ask for any previous knowledge, or access to tools and equipment - we provide everything that's needed.
Barbara Jones is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.