This anonymous survey respondent has shared their experiences throughout their career in construction. We are sharing the alarming testimonial in full.
In my first year of graduating I started in a large architecture and interior design company. On the first Friday I went to the pub with half the office. The associate in charge of me asked the male I was chatting with to move so he could sit next to me. Everyone was staring. After half an hour everyone decided to move pubs. He wouldn’t let me out. He said I must stay and have a drink with him. I stayed feeling frightened. I wanted a coke. He said I had to drink alcohol with him.
I cannot go back into that career. It eats you alive.
Just before the Christmas party he told me I was being moved to sit near him. I mentioned it to someone who then got drunk and asked him why he was insisting I move near him. He lost his temper and hammered his fist on the table. He was the boss, he decides where his staff (all women) sit and we do as he says. Back in the office I was left to work on a project on my own and when I went to ask him for advice he wouldn’t look at me and then walked away. He wouldn’t speak to me for over 2 weeks.
I finally made a complaint to the directors about him following him shaking a fist in my face saying I have a way of making men hate me so much they want to punch me in the face. When I looked shocked, he gave me a shove and said I couldn’t take a joke and took everything too seriously. This was in front of the female financial director who just gave a nervous giggle.
He said I must stay and have a drink with him. I stayed feeling frightened.
In the same week, three women also complained about his comments on their bodies. The directors said that he brings in a lot of clients so if I couldn’t work with him I knew where the door was. He was told of my complaint. I continued working with him for a few months. Every time he passed my desk he did a huge sigh over my shoulder. I even had a one-to-one leaving interview with him on my own where he asked why I was leaving, and with a big grin on his face, asked: “Is it because of me?”
I was once working with a male team member when my chair suddenly dropped down low. A man, who I wasn’t working with, had come over and pulled the lever under my chair. He said: “I’ve done this to put you down there where you belong.” This was witnessed by many and no one said anything.
In every workplace I have ever worked in I have encountered a man who doesn’t like strong women with opinions and female bosses. Most companies will not consider flexible working hours and when they do it’s still frowned upon to leave the office at 5pm to collect your children. I have been working four days a week and on four days’ pay since my son was born yet I easily work six days a week.
Where he asked why I was leaving, and with a big grin on his face, asked: “Is it because of me?”
When I was pregnant with my second child I was lead interior designer in charge of a large project and 6 people. I worked well over 60 hour weeks and was incredibly stressed. I discovered one of the CAD men was on £1,000 a week and I was on £350 a week. When I addressed this with the director he said he’d have to discuss it with the other directors as he wasn’t sure they had the money. I said I’d walk if I didn’t get the same level of pay. In fact, I should have asked for more. They did pay.
In my last job my male equivalent was on £10,000 more than me, totalling £47,000. I was contracted to work 30 hours a week yet on Monday alone I would work 15 hours because I had to drive to site. I said to my boss that I wanted to be paid for all the hours I was working. He looked at me astounded and said: “No one has ever asked for that.” I said if he wasn’t comfortable paying me I would leave work when I’d completed my 30 hours. This would be by midday on the third day. He tried to argue against giving me more money so I wrote out the sums and he said he couldn’t argue with that.
We agreed I’d get an hourly rate for any hours after 30. He was shocked by the bill. No other woman in the office would dare stand up to him and it’s only with age and experience that I did. A female interior designer in the same office had been there for eight years and had more experience than me. She’d not dealt well with a client in her first year there and was now kept in the office and labelled ‘nervous in front of clients’ and never given a second chance or any training. She produced all the work for everyone else. She started on £20,000 and was told “no” to any pay rise. When I pushed her to fight her corner she said she didn’t dare as she didn’t believe she’d get another interiors job four days a week. And the joke was she came into the office on her day off every other week and worked for free as there was too much work.
I discovered one of the CAD men was on £1,000 a week and I was on £350 a week. When I addressed this with the director he said he’d have to discuss it with the other directors as he wasn’t sure they had the money.
I had to be very strong to get to a senior level. The more capable I was, the more I was given the hard, sexist clients: “You’re the only one who can deal with them.” In 99 out of 100 meetings I was the only woman in a room of sometimes 15 or 20 men.
On site men spread rumours that I was pregnant when I wasn’t. In 2014 I attended a meeting where the table had pictures of topless women. I asked for them to be removed before the meeting began, I was laughed at. One man said: “You’re just jealous.” I said: “That may be, but I will not have this meeting until those pictures are removed.” They removed them.
I found that most of the time the men forced themselves to behave and even apologised if the conversation became sexist or rude. However, being the only female in the room is a very stressful place to be and takes a lot of energy to make it through particularly when you’re being openly blamed for holding up the project or being put under pressure to give the go ahead on a build when you’re not happy with what they want to do.
I attended a meeting where the table had pictures of topless women. I asked for them to be removed before the meeting began, I was laughed at. One man said: “You’re just jealous.”
For most of my career I have had bosses who were happy to have female leaders working for them. It is, however, far, far harder to become a director or partner. In interior design being a part-time senior member of staff is impossible because of the nature of project work. The work load is always astonishingly overwhelming, and always, always understaffed, which in turn means I had to work long hours, evenings and weekends. This is not sustainable or flexible.
My kids went into childcare at 4 months and 8 months old. Now they are older and in last year I quit my senior interior design job to rebuild my mental and physical health having worked myself into the ground.
I cannot go back into that career. It eats you alive. There is no work/life balance and bosses wring out every last drop of you with no consideration or compassion for women or men having children.
Men daren’t take more than the two weeks’ paternity leave as they are then viewed as not being committed to the job, not given responsibility or any chance of promotion. The women gradually move out of interior design and architecture when they have children. It is a depressing state of affairs particularly when interior design is seen as a ‘feminine’ career.