You might think that we had moved on from a time when being female and a plumber would be enough to make a news story, but last month several tabloids revelled in the discovery that there was a young mother from Crewe who not only ran a successful plumbing business but also scrubbed up well for the camera.
With attention grabbing headlines such as ‘The UK’s Sexiest Plumber’ and ‘Where’s the Man?’ it seems that readers were meant to be shocked at the possibility that someone could be both Gas Safe registered and look good in a dress.
Just to make sure that we didn’t doubt the installer’s gender, online news portals obliged with a generous collection of pictures displaying her ‘well-toned physique’.
What does a plumber look like?
Carly, described as a ‘blonde beauty’, goes on to bemoan sexism within the industry and customers who doubt whether she is capable of doing the job.
While conceding that attitudes are getting better, she says that we’re still a long way off from women being treated as equals.
As she goes on to describe how she’s careful not to damage her nails and how wood shavings can get caught in her underwear, some would question whether she’s really succeeded in striking a blow for gender equality, but at least the story might encourage readers to question their stereotypical views as to what a plumber might look like.
Friendlier and more trustworthy
In an ideal world, perhaps we would all be blind to gender when it comes to considering someone’s ability to perform this or that line of work, but if more women are to be attracted to the construction industry, and employers persuaded to invest in their training, then there could be an argument for embracing the positive benefits of having more females on the tools.
Last year, the Federation of Master Builders carried out a survey that suggested that 35% of homeowners would prefer to hire a female tradesperson, stating that they considered them to be more trustworthy, friendlier and likely to be more respectful of their home.
For any aspiring business, that’s a lot of potential customers who might be won over by being able to offer the choice of a male or female heating engineer to come and fix their heating system.
For similar reasons, a number of self-employed female plumbers have recognised the benefits of highlighting their gender when marketing their services.
If looking to hire someone to work at the home of an elderly or vulnerable relative, it seems that many people would be happier with the thought of a woman turning up at the door rather than a hulking guy lacking in social graces.
Such statements are clearly unfair to the thousands of caring and professional male installers, but it does show that the biases that we all hold can sometimes work in favour of a woman who is looking to build a career in the plumbing industry.
This July sees the Women Installers Together Conference take place in London for the third year running, an event organised by Hattie Hasan, founder of Stopcocks Women Plumbers, which aims to provide a platform to discuss some of the challenges that women face in the workplace.
Fighting against sexist attitudes and offering a support network for female installers, the event itself is an acknowledgement that, however much we might like it otherwise, there’s no getting away from the fact that women in the industry are a distinct group and will sometimes come up against issues that will not need to be addressed by their male counterparts.
While the battle goes on to create a more equal playing field, perhaps we should accept that prejudices can work either way and sometimes being able to differentiate yourself from the male dominated competition will have its rewards.
This viewpoint originally appeared as a blog on Mitsubishi Electric’s website The Hub.