The first ever Women Installers Together (WIT) Conference held last week in London proved to be such a success that organiser, Stopcocks Women Plumbers, is already looking forward to a second event next year.
Ninety-three women plumbers registered for the inaugural event, and only a few last minute withdrawals due to work commitments, prevented it from being a complete sell-out.
Women plumbers from as far as Belgium, as well as the Home Nations, made the event truly international and resulted in the largest gathering of females from the plumbing sector ever assembled in one room.
Mica May, co-director of Stopcocks, told the audience: “Anybody who is a minority will, unfortunately, experience discrimination. However, there are loads of us who really want to help people, want to create communities, and I’m certain that’s why you’re here.
“I do think it’s the isolation of women within the industry that has meant that the numbers – as far we know – have not significantly changed since for many years. But we must do more.”
Mica was summing up a conference that had seen a trio of inspirational speakers talk on a variety of subjects.
Jazz Jones, training officer at Polypipe, gave an interactive presentation on how to deal with conflict at work, an issue many women face due to their gender.
She explained that when she joined Polypipe there were no women – an issue bound to cause conflict to any female employed there.
“You can imagine my surprise. It was all men except my boss who was sat among a group of men,” said Jazz.
“Coming into Polypipe and challenging the way it behaved,” she said. “How many doors do you think they let go in my face? So, had I reacted to some of that behaviour, I wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of months.”
Katie Beesley, of SLG Marketing, then gave a short presentation entitled ‘The Power of Branding’, and explained how to use a brand to get more customers and build a good reputation.
“Logos are branding. People become the brand. You buy into people,” she said. “You are a brand when you walk into a customer’s home.”
After lunch, Hattie Hasan, co-founder of Stopcocks Women Plumbers, shared her experiences of a life in the plumbing industry and the hardships she faced.
“When I was at school in the 70s, I wanted to do metal work. And they said, ‘girls don’t do metal work.’ So I thought ok, I’ll do technical drawing. ‘Girls don’t do technical drawing.’ Ok, I’ll do woodwork. ‘Girls don’t do woodwork.’ So I asked, ‘Ok, what do girls do?’ ‘Girls do cookery and needlework.’
But that didn’t put her off and Hattie started a plumbing course one day a week in London before moving to Leeds where she wrote to 500 companies trying to get a plumbing position. Not one wrote back.
Her only option for was self-employment and since then she has never looked back.
So, what of the future for women plumbers?
“We need to make it so it’s not unusual to see a female plumber, that we are not zoo exhibits anymore, and therefore, it’s not unusual to choose it as an option,” said Hattie. “And that needs to be ok not just for girls to choose it, but for boys to think it’s Ok.”
Hattie admitted the event went better than she could have imaged.
“I was blown away with the number of people who came. Blown away by the engagement of the group that were here. It was just an amazing event.”
“Most definitely we’ll be doing this event next year. It will be bigger and better that’s for sure.”