The rise of the female plumber

In 2008, Derby-based teacher Philippa Cunningham quit her job to follow her dream to become a plumber.

Despite spending 20 years in the classroom, it was something she felt she needed to do - and thus, Pink Plumbing was born.

Her story isn't unique and - on the contrary - is similar to many other women who have aspirations of earning a living getting handy under the sink and behind the shower.

While it's fair to say that plumbing used to be a male-dominated profession, there's no reason why this has to be the case. After all, so long as the job is carried out to an acceptable standard, who cares what gender the person doing the work is?

According to recent research from IronmongeryDirect, one in 20 plumbers are women, which represents the highest recorded proportion in the history of the industry. However, some would argue this still isn't enough - and old-fashioned perceptions are still holding back those ladies who want to become professionals in their own right.

Get Girls Plumbing

Earlier this year, industry assurance organisation WaterSafe launched its Get Girls Plumbing campaign, which aimed to address the lack of registered female plumbers.

As part of the initiative, the body surveyed students from colleges across the UK to find out whether or not women had the support behind them to feel confident in pursuing a career as a tradesperson while they were still in the classroom.

Tellingly, nearly half (45 per cent) of respondents said they felt as though both genders were not offered the same opportunities as they progressed through higher education, while over one in three women believed their male counterparts were encouraged to take up manual jobs more than they were.

The message from this is clear - in order to try to up the proportion, work needs to begin at an earlier stage to balance the playing field.

Maria Miller, the minister for women and equalities, has already praised the scheme, describing its attempts to challenge perceptions as "admirable".

"Many trade industries, like plumbing, are still male-dominated, but women and girls should not be restricted by gender stereotypes," she noted.

Snowball effect

Speaking to Sky News, Hattie Hassan - founder of all-women plumbing firm Stopcocks - said there aren't enough role models at the moment for girls to be inspired by to enter the sector.

"The more female plumbers there are, the more there will be, because the more people see us the more they'll realise it is a possibility for them," she suggested.

According to another Watersafe study, it's certainly a notion welcomed by the public, with 31 per cent of the 2,000 respondents saying they would prefer a woman to complete work on their home, citing the fact they would "feel safer" or "wouldn't be ripped off" as the main reasons for feeling this way.

Currently, the most pressing issue is supplying women with the tools and support they need to achieve their aims in the sector. With the recent recession giving many people food for thought in whether or not they would like to have a go at being their own boss, the stage is certainly set for those brave enough to take the leap to do just that.

Pink Plumbing is in the process of establishing its own training academy in Derby at the moment, which - in partnership with Ideal Boilers - will focus purely on helping female trainee plumbers.

The research was keen to point out that there wasn't a general mistrust of male plumbers, though - with 77 per cent of people saying the most important thing to bear in mind was the ability of their plumber rather than their gender, confirming that as long as the job gets done and is reasonably priced, most homeowners don't care who does it.

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