September 8, 2022

The 13 best trade jobs for women and how they compare

Woman icon mext to small icons of tradie tools

For a long time, the trade industry has been a space predominantly filled by men. However, times are changing as more and more women are taking up their tools to join the industry. Recent research shows that there has been a 366% increase in tradeswomen in the UK with that number set to continue to grow.

With that in mind let’s take a look at some popular trade jobs and find out how many women in trades there really are and what opportunities there are for female tradespeople in the UK.

  1. Plumbing & Heating
  2. Electricians
  3. Carpentry
  4. Painting & Decorating
  5. Gardening & Landscaping
  6. Locksmiths
  7. Construction
  8. Chimney Sweeps
  9. Carpet Layer
  10. Plasterers
  11. Mechanics
  12. Roofers
  13. Handywoman
  14. Women in trades - the issues
  15. Women in trades - the positives
  16. Regional distribution

Plumbing & Heating

28.38% of women in trade have taken up a career as a plumber, making it the second most popular trade for women in the UK, according to GoCompare Van. But what does that percentage look like when compared to these plumber’s male compatriots?

The numbers for tradeswomen in the plumbing and heating industry don’t look so good when we dive in deeper. Less than 1% of plumbers in the UK are women, which equates to less than 2000 female plumbers total, for the whole of the UK.

Despite these numbers, the demand for female plumbers is relatively high. According to a report by water safe, almost a third of women (31%) would prefer a female plumber to carry out work in their home and 59% of consumers would feel positive about more women taking up a career as a female tradesperson.

When it comes to the pay gap unfortunately there is still work to be done. On average, women take home 61% of the salary that men earn in the same industry.

Electricians

For female sparks, this group of tradeswomen makes up 11.5% of women in trade and is the third most popular trade for women in the UK.

When it comes to total numbers, the presence of female electricians in the UK is no better than the number of plumbers. After surveying 250k British electricians, Tradesparky found only around 2000 UK electricians are female - as a percentage that’s just 1% of the workforce.

The good news is female electricians are popular, with research finding that 29% of UK adults would prefer to hire a woman to work in their home if given the choice. This means there is plenty of opportunity for women to enter the industry.

The balance of pay between male and female tradespeople is not yet equal. Tradesparky and Direct Line have both found the pay gap between male and female electricians to be significant, with Tradesparky finding men to earn on average 3.5k more than their female compatriots while Direct Line found that women only earn 54% of male electricians.

Whether the difference is 11% or 46%, this is a large disparity that needs to be improved.

Carpentry

According to Careersmart, this is an industry that is in decline, with numbers predicted to decrease by 6000 in the next 5 years. When it comes to female participation things don’t look much better, with women making up just 1% of the workforce (2399 total female carpenters working in the UK).

As a percentage of the total number of women in trades, female carpenters make up 4.29%, making it the fifth most popular trade for women, behind painters, plumbers, electricians and gardeners.

The differences in pay are similar to other trades, with women getting paid on average 10.9% less than men according to the Gov.UK gender pay gap services.

Painting & Decorating

Amongst women in trade jobs, painting and decorating has the highest numbers of women in the industry with 33% of all female tradies working as painters and decorators.

However, when we look at the total number of painters and decorators UK-wide, only 4.9% (6211 workers) are women.

When it comes to pay there are still big differences. On average women earn £23,986 per year, whereas men earn £25,550, that’s a little over a 6% difference in pay between genders.

The good news is, that this is an industry that is popular and is experiencing a steady increase in the number of women taking up the job.

Gardening & landscaping

For a long time, this has been a heavily male-dominated industry, in part due to the industry’s association with brute strength and manual labour - traditionally attributes associated with men. However, women have actually been involved in gardening and horticulture as far back as the 1700s.

Today 10.23% of female tradespeople in the UK work in gardening and landscaping and there are many women with prominent roles in the industry including senior positions in the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society).

Compared to many trade professions, gardening and landscaping is one of the few industries that is growing, with a projected increase of approximately 4000 new workers expected to join the industry in the next 5 years.

The percentage of female gardeners is also higher than in other trades, with women making up 9.7% of the workforce. That’s 14121 women working as gardeners and landscapers in the UK. This of course is still a very low number, but there is a positive trend in women joining the industry.

The pay gap is still present amongst gardeners as it is in other trades, with women receiving on average £21,379 compared to the men’s £22,943, a difference of approximately 7%.

Locksmiths

GoCompare Van’s recent study found that 3.976% of female trades work as locksmiths, making it the 6th most popular industry for women.

As an industry, there is significant anecdotal evidence that a career as a locksmith offers good opportunities for women trades. The Master locksmiths association for example confirmed that many women attend their training courses and they have approved many companies that are owned and run by female locksmiths.

Although this is not much to go on, it does indicate that there are growing numbers of women in the industry.

When looking into payment differences, men still get the better end of the deal, earning on average 17% more than women who make £32,329 to the men’s £38,964

Construction

This is another industry that is becoming more and more popular with women tradies, seeing a 20-year high in the number of women directly employed in construction in 2016. As a percentage of the workforce, women also make up a greater number than in many other trade industries, with female workers making up 14% of construction workers nationally.

However, the devil is in the detail and when we take a look at how many female construction operatives work on-site, this number only makes up just 1% of the total.

When it comes to pay there is some contradictory data out there. In a report by Considerate Constructors Scheme, they stated that women in the construction industry are subject to one of the worst pay gaps nationally, earning 45% less than men in the same jobs.

However, Roofing Today recently highlighted a study by Help Me Fix (posted in June 2022) that claims that the gender pay gap actually swings in favour of women by 2.8%. Furthermore, the latest research from Roofing Today indicates that over a fifth of women are ‘very interested’ in construction as a career. This would suggest that things are improving for women in the construction industry.

Sadly there are still significant hurdles women in trade have to deal with, including sexual discrimination and harassment. A 2018 survey revealed that tradeswomen in construction receive the third highest rate of unwanted sexual attention in any industry while a 2017 survey revealed that 73% of women engineers experience sex discrimination.

Despite this less than positive data, a white paper study has revealed that 77.37% of self-employed tradeswomen feel satisfied with their jobs, and a further 25% of these women said that they were ‘extremely satisfied’ with their careers.

On balance, it would appear that although the construction industry has work to do, there are significant improvements taking place and the opportunities for women to enter the industry continue to grow.

Chimney Sweeps

This is an industry that has a long history that goes back to the early 18th century. Today, there are over 250 chimney sweeps registered UK-wide and their number continues to grow.

Amongst female tradespeople, chimney sweeps make up 1.6% of the total split. And within the sweeping industry, women make up 4% of total recorded members.

According to a BBC article, in 2010 there were just 3 recorded female sweeps in the UK. This number has grown considerably, going up by 500% in 9 years, with 16 new female sweeps joining the industry. Year on year that works out at just over 41% growth every year.

Since 2019, that number has continued to increase so that in 2022 there are now around 30 female sweeps in the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps. Further still, for the very first time, a female sweep has been appointed to the board of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, the first time a woman has held such a senior role within a sweeping association.

With such rapid growth in the number of ladies in this career, it is very possible that within the next 10 years women could make up well over 25% of the chimney-sweeping workforce, a record for any trade profession.

Disappointingly, despite the increasing number of women entering the industry, according to findcourses.co.uk, there is still a significant pay gap between men and women, with male chimney sweeps earning on average 15% more.

Carpet layer

There is very limited data available on the number of tradeswomen who work as carpet layers in the UK, however, GoCompare Van did show that 0.99% of women trades work as carpet layers nationally.

Findcourses.co.uk also provides some insight into the pay differences in the carpet laying industry with men earning on average £29,348 a year and women earning £24,991, 15% less than the men.

Plasterers

This is another trade where the data on the number of women who work in the industry is very limited.

When trying to find information on this on findcourses.co.uk and Careersmart, both suggested that no women work in the industry. However, we know this isn’t true as according to GoCompare, female plasterers make up slightly under 1% of female tradespeople in the UK.

The Yorkshire evening post provides some insight, indicating that women make up around 3% of the plastering workforce in the UK. If this is accurate, this would mean amongst a total number of 45952 plasterers (according to Careersmart), female workers would number somewhere under 1500 UK-wide.

Whether or not this data is accurate, it is clear that women are still a very small minority within the plastering workforce.

Mechanic

When it comes to the automotive industry, there are a lot of unhelpful and sexist stereotypes about. According to a 2014 study 1 in 5 women do not feel comfortable getting a car repair and 28% feel nervous about asking technical questions.

This all comes from the misplaced perception that women do not understand cars and has been made worse by male mechanics who try to push unreasonable prices on their customers.

Despite this, according to a report by WhoCanFixMyCar.com, the number of women who work as mechanics in the UK has grown massively, increasing by 125% between 2011 and 2018.

In 2022, the numbers are looking even better, with women making up 20% of the total workforce (according to an industry-wide report published by Deloitte).

Mechanical businesses are also getting behind this new wave of female technicians, with 93% of surveyed garages stating that they have seen a positive impact from their female mechanics.

There is still work to be done, however, most notably in the pay gap between women and men. Auto Express has compiled a table of the differences in salary between some of the UK’s biggest automotive employers. In 18 out of 20 cases, women earn less than their male counterparts, averaging 13% less pay per hour.

What’s more, women are behind in the highest-paid roles too. Amongst the top executives of  Britain’s biggest automotive companies, women make up only 10%.

It’s clear that although the automotive industry is ahead of many other trades, there is still plenty of improvement to be had.

As one of the largest trade industries out there, employing over 780,000 workers across the UK, there is heightened responsibility for this industry to level the field and get more women involved and paid equally to men.

Roofing

The roofing industry employs over 37,000 workers UK-wide, but still has work to do when it comes to female tradespeople in the industry.

Currently, amongst tradeswomen working in the UK, female roofers make up just 0.33%. That’s not a large amount, especially when you consider that the industry is in a state of decline with 64% of firms struggling to recruit new labourers.

Although there is very limited information available on the total number of women who work as roofers in the UK, US figgers show that women in the roofing trade make up just 0.5% of the industry. The figure in the UK is likely to be similar, putting the total number of female roofers at approximately 215.

The need for female roofers is greater than ever however and is only going to get bigger.

With an expected 8000 roofers set to retire over the next 10 years, the roofing industry is going to need an influx of new roofers to fill the large hole that will be left behind. Female tradespeople could provide that fresh influx of workers that the roofing industry needs.

Handyperson

A career doesn’t get more male orientated than a job that uses the word ‘man’ in the title. The job of the handyperson is one that is synonymous with male tradies, however, even here the number of women in the industry is growing.

In GoCompare’s 2021 report, they ranked the handywoman as the 11th most popular career option amongst tradeswomen, making up 0.66% of all women in trade.

When looking at pay differences, findcourses.co.uk reports that men earn £23,973 a year, 16% more than female handypeople who earn £20,083.

In spite of these differences, the job of the handyperson is on the rise, having experienced significant growth post-pandemic.

In the current climate, nearly 40% of Brits would now consider a career as a handyman, this includes women who are increasingly adding their number to the workforce.

Women in Trades - the issues

Pay gap

Unfortunately, the gender gap between men and women is a wide one in the trade industry.

In fact, many of the worst offending jobs can be found in the service industry with over half of the UK’s worst pay gap careers made up of jobs in trade.

In 2022, women earn just 72% of the salary of men, something that is true across 15 different trades.

This looks even worse when you focus on plumbers and heating engineers who earn just 61% of the male salary. In fact, men earn as much as £13,000 a year more than their female compatriots, while doing the same plumbing and heating jobs.

A small positive is that, compared to the national average, the trade industry is doing better. The national average pay gap between men and women in the UK is £8,206 per year. Amongst tradespeople, this number is slightly smaller, with women earning on average £7,115 less than men.

Sexism

Although things are moving in the right direction, many women still experience sexism and discrimination.

A nationwide study of over 600 tradespeople taken in December 2021, found that over a third of tradeswomen (39%) feel that they aren’t taken seriously because of their gender.

Worse still, one in seven tradeswomen (15%) have had personal safety concerns when working, and almost one in 10 (9%) say they’ve had customers who won’t let them work on a job because they’re a woman.

Furthermore, despite improvements, there are still issues of sexism and inappropriate behaviour directed towards women in trade. As many as one in 3 women experience gender discrimination in the trade industry, while in construction, tradeswomen receive the third highest rate of unwanted sexual attention in any industry.

Women in Trades - the positives

Although there are many issues still present within the trade industry, there are positive changes taking place. In 2022 there are more opportunities than ever for women to join the industry with increasing numbers of tradeswomen making their mark on the industry.

Uptake

Despite the low numbers of women in trade jobs, women are increasingly considering a career as a tradesperson. In a recent study from 2021, it was found that 32% of women in the UK would consider working in the trade industry.

Furthermore, according to a study by Direct Line for Business, there are now more than twice as many women working in trade professions than ten years ago.

In fact, there was a 120% increase in the number of female tradespeople between 2009 and 2019. If the industry sees the same rate of growth over the next ten years, then there could be as many as 51,000 women in construction by the end of the next decade.

Interestingly, research by Watersafe also found that 38% of women in the UK would learn a trade if they had their time over again.

Public Perception

Perceptions are changing.

Historically, the trades have been considered to be male-only professions, with women in the industry typically taking up roles as clerks and assistants. However, this is now starting to change.

There has been a shift in perspective amongst UK homeowners, as more people are opening up to the possibility of employing the services of female trade workers.

In a recent survey, nearly half of respondents (46%) said that they would definitely hire a tradeswoman, 43% had no preference, and only 11% of UK homeowners said they would prefer a tradesman.

For women looking to employ a tradie, more than one in three (37%) said they would feel safer hiring a tradeswoman to do a home improvement or maintenance job in their home.

Watersafe found the reasoning for this to be split into 3 main categories:

  • Women feel like they are less likely to be ripped off by a female (12%).
  • Women are more inclined to trust advice from another woman than a man (10%).
  • It was felt that a woman is less likely to be patronising than a man (10%).

Data from google also shows that people are actively searching for tradeswomen online. In 2021, there were 27,500 searches for female painters over 12 months, while women gardeners, builders, electricians and plumbers also saw between 5,000 to 10,000 Google searches.

It really goes to show that there is demand for female tradespeople. Women are able to provide a unique service that male workers cannot, simply by providing that reassurance that a man cannot so easily offer.

Training

The opportunities for training are also greater than ever before, with many more women taking up the chance to become qualified as professional tradespeople.

Since 2016 there’s been a 366% increase in the number of females who have enrolled in trade-related apprenticeships.

On courses that started in 2019/20, 10,170 females were enrolled in construction and a further 45,010 in engineering.

The construction industry has seen particular success with women now making up 37% of new entrants to the UK construction industry from higher education.

Furthermore, according to Access Training, admissions of women on trade courses increased by another 27% in 2021.

If this number continues to increase, we can expect to see a significant rise in the number of female tradeswomen in the UK.

Regional distribution

Within the UK there are significant differences in the numbers of women enrolled on trade courses within different cities and regions.

Bolsover in Derbyshire, currently has the highest percentage of female trade trainees, with women making up 30% of students enrolled in construction.

Walsall and Birmingham, are in second and third place, significantly behind Bolsover, with 15.33% and 13.23% female trainees on their courses respectively. Given that Birmingham has the highest number of construction apprentices (3,930 registered) in the UK, they have work to do to bring up their female percentage.

For engineering, Ipswich is the leading light for female courses, with women making up 2 in 10 trainees in the cities courses. For most other towns this number is 1 in 10 or less.

Nationally London is out in front, with 3,930 registered female apprentices across its boroughs.

For construction, female numbers are distributed across three main boroughs, with 31% in Southwark, 28.28% in Wandsworth, 16.67% in Redbridge and 14.55% in Havering.

For engineering, the top boroughs for female apprentices are Lambeth (17.53%), Southwark (17.27%) and Lewisham 15.97%.

The trade industry has for a long time been a place only inhabited by men. Whether it’s due to unhelpful attitudes or a lack of opportunities, few women have sought to enter the industry with many women not even considering it as an option.

However, despite there being a long way to go, the landscape is changing. Industry by industry numbers are creeping up as women trades make their mark. And with more and more young women taking up apprenticeships and courses in trade careers, the future is bright for women in trade.

If you're interested in getting into a career in trade then check out skills training group, they've written a really helpful blog outlining some of the best opportunities for women to up-skill themselves and join the industry.

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