From early gender stereotyping to blatant sexism in the workplace to protective clothing that simply isn’t made for women, there are many complex reasons for the low numbers of women in the maintenance and construction industry. However, 30-year-old Tanisha Mckay from Tower Hamlets has been a Mears Tradeswoman for 12 years and is inspiring young women to follow her footsteps and shatter gender stereotypes.
Tanisha’s introduction to the maintenance industry came at a crucial stage when she was picking her options for school. “One day, we had a supply teacher come to our school and we were picking our options for school. He told the boys that if they wanted to earn lots of money, they should consider becoming a plumber — and I thought to myself — I could do that!”
When Tanisha approached her connections advisor about considering a career in plumbing, she was advised to get her A levels instead. However, Tanisha knew in her heart that she didn’t want to continue with school and that her future was in manual trades.
Tanisha said: “It was a choice between hairdressing and plumbing; I decided to give the plumbing a shot and I loved it at college. After I completed my course, I was looking around for work, by pure chance, I happened to go to a job fair and find a stand there called Women in manual trades; I felt like that this stand was built for me — I knew that this is what I would do, and it was brilliant!”
Once she completed the programme, Tanisha still found it challenging to break into the industry. So, when an apprenticeship opportunity came up at Mears in Tower Hamlets, she decided to take it and has never looked back.
Tanisha (left) added: “I would go into the office each day and shadow a qualified engineer. In the beginning, I would mostly observe how things were done and I would also get to do some repair work as well. However, if things got intense, I always had the option to step back and learn.
“After a while, I picked things up; I knew what to do and how things worked. I completed my gas course and began to go out and do repairs on my own and now I’ve got apprentices myself!”
Like her father who was a tradesman, Tanisha is following in his footsteps to impart her knowledge to the next generation of apprentices.
“My dad was a tradesman; when he died, his apprentices came to the funeral and shared stories of all the things he taught them. It forever stays with me, that like him, I’m going to teach them how to fit and repair things — that is going to be my legacy.
“I get a thrill out of that knowing that I’m giving someone knowledge which they will have for the rest of their lives.”
For the last seven years, Mears has been working with their social housing partners, through their award-winning Tradeswomen into Maintenance project to identify the barriers for women getting and retaining jobs in Repairs and Maintenance. Tanisha has been an active voice and an ambassador for women in manual trades and has been raising awareness about the opportunities available to women in the sector, and supporting women already employed in trades roles.
“Mears is a great company to work for, they have been organising events to encourage women to take up careers in trades and understand what is stopping girls from applying for these roles and what they can do as a business to change this trend.
“There is a lot of misconception about what manual trades is about, that it’s all about toilets and drains and you’re going to be dealing with loads of dirty things or coming home covered in filth. However, that’s really not the case; you work on your boiler and everything’s in front of you. You can even ring the boiler manufacturer if you get stuck and they can talk you through it.
“For me, it’s about challenging perceptions; in this trade, you are always going to find people who are going to be surprised to see a tradeswoman and it’s about the challenge of proving them wrong.”
Tanisha knows the difference an exceptional customer experience can make to our residents of Tower Hamlets and always strives to go above and beyond for them.
“I love meeting our residents, they are so grateful when I get things working for them again. Sometimes you get old ladies wrapped up in dressing gowns and they’ll hold your hands and thank you for putting their heating back on.
“I think that’s what keeps me going every day, knowing that you’re making a difference to someone’s life. It gives you a lot of satisfaction that you were the one who has been able to fix their problem — it’s a great feeling.”
For Mears, it’s about creating chances and changing perceptions. With the current shortage of skills in the construction industry, there is a real opportunity for companies to invest in training programmes like Mears’ Tradeswomen into Maintenance project that will help bring more women into work and build skills for life.
Tanisha added: “What I want to tell anyone who is considering a career in trades whether it’s a man or a woman — take the opportunity. An apprenticeship is the best place to start if you want to break into the industry. You always have support and there is such a good network of people at Mears who are always on hand to help.
“I love my work and it is a really great job. You learn so much and it pays very well. You’ll be the breadwinner of the family.”
Header image shows Tanisha with an apprentice.