Elleise Stanton – My career in construction. Getting to where I am now with grit, determination and resilience.

I’m Elleise and I’ve been working in the construction sector since I was 18, which means I’ve been in it for exactly half my life, man do I feel old now ha-ha! I started off completing a 2-year management trainee scheme at Travis Perkins, from there I moved into Sales and finally moved into my first Assistant Manager role at the age of 21. I stayed at this level for 9 years until a Branch Managers role came up that I really really wanted. I had to do a lot of convincing that I was the right person for the job at the time as I had previously told the person interviewing that I didn’t want to progress anymore! I spent 2 years as a Branch Manager, before deciding to have a bash at being a Key Accounts Manager. I quite enjoyed this role however I felt I had achieved everything I wanted to in Merchanting and I was a bit bored of it, so took a few months out to try and figure out what I really wanted to do. 

During that time, I became a Postie at the worst time of year (Christmas and winter!), but absolutely loved everything about it! Royal Mail will always have a special place in my heart as it was something so different, so simple yet so physically demanding and gave me the head space to figure out what I fancied doing. I then saw one of my favourite customers post a job for a People & Culture Manager, I had kept in touch with them since leaving merchanting and made a call to express an interest. I wasn’t exactly qualified for the role, but they took a gamble and here I am. Watsons are currently supporting me through my CIPD qualification in People Management which is exciting. I’ve not been this mentally stimulated for a long time! I have a lot to do and learn but I couldn’t have written a job description more perfect for what I was looking for. I’ve only been in the role for 7 weeks at the time of writing this and I’ve already experienced so much, it’s been a lot of fun and the Watsons team have been so welcoming!

‘My favourite part of my whole career has always been people’

No day is ever really the same, sometimes this role can be quite reactive! Across a standard week, I’ll usually have visited a few of our sites to see the site teams, I’m trying to familiarise myself with all the roles across the business at the minute so I can re vamp our annual staff review processes, so I ask the guys loads of questions and I genuinely want to know why people do the jobs they do! I get involved in interviewing and recruiting and I induct any new starters that have come on board. I have to monitor everything to do with absence in the business and manage the process appropriately with each individual. I also get involved with any performance management issues we might have and identify any training needs to help with staff development and will get together with the Directors to feed everything back so we can hatch action plans. This role is new to the business so at this stage I’m assessing and reviewing a lot of things to figure out what works, what we could do better and then designing and creating changes that work and are in fitting with the business ethos. My role revolves hugely around providing support and communication, luckily, I’m great at talking!

The reason I chose this career is, I saw an advert for a management trainee programme at a builder’s merchant, where I could go to college once a week and learn about loads of cool stuff, I think it was the mention of learning to drive a FLT that did it for me! When I did my work experience at school, I originally chose to work at a painting contractor, but they couldn’t accommodate me on site because of health and safety at that age, so I ended up going into the army for a week, followed by a week in a beauty salon! At that stage, I realised I probably wanted to be in an active environment getting stuck in and doing something that could offer me variation as I do get bored easy! I don’t feel like I chose this industry though, I feel like it chose me and it really suited me and my personality! As for this career, the favourite part of my whole career has always been people, people always offer variation because everyone is so different, what makes them tick, why they do things, their quirks and I find that really interesting. The construction sector offers a lot of change and having to adapt to that which is probably why it’s kept me entertained for so long.  So, People Management within a construction business is possibly my most ideal job, I don’t know why I didn’t look into it before now!

I got to where I am now with a lot of perseverance, grit, determination and resilience! You never realise how many challenges you’ve faced until you stop and look back do you?! The biggest challenge I would say was being a young girl in what used to be an old man’s world! As a teenager, you have no experience and all you can do is show how keen you are to learn by asking a lot of people a lot of questions and turning up on time every day with enthusiasm. Throw being a female into the mix, and you get even more judgement. Being a naturally chatty and inquisitive person, I would say my personality is what has got me to where I am now!

I quickly realised, the fastest way to blow peoples judgements out of the water was to get stuck in, I was stubborn and didn’t ask anyone to do anything for me until I had tried to do it myself, when I first started the trainee scheme, I was lugging 40kg bags of sand into people’s vehicles! I apply that rule into all areas of my life. I’ve had some senior management that have really knocked my confidence over the years, people that have stopped me getting where I wanted to be. I’ve experienced discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying too and at the time, dealing with those events was so bloody hard and upsetting. No one should ever have to experience that, but if anything it made me more determined to succeed, I learned a lot from the negatives and then turned them into positives, I became very good at sussing out people who I could trust to help and support me and who actually believed in me and luckily I have a lot of those people in my network who I am so grateful for who have helped me get where I am today!

‘The biggest challenge was being a young girl in what used to be an old man’s world!’

An important initiative I feel passionate about is that I’d like to normalise period talk within the construction industry and also create awareness and educate about the severe side effects women can get, then looking into what we can do to support anyone that suffers with bad period symptoms. I think if businesses in construction or male dominated industries did this, it would show that things are changing and could make a different to the imbalance issues. I personally suffer from endometreosis, its something I’ve lived with since I was 14. It rules my life, I have to plan everything around my periods and it can be disruptive to work. My symptoms have got  more extreme the older I have got too. The pain can cause me to vomit and pass out sometimes. Luckily the last few jobs I have had have been flexible enough for me to work around it. I never had much support from doctors growing up, my personal experience of doctors was to just give me stronger painkillers, but that’s not really addressing the issue long term, its just a quick fix. I also think with with everything that has happened with COVID, workplaces have become more flexible so now is a great time to try and create awareness and do what we can as businesses to support women who have these problems.

Another thing I want to promote, is a deeper health. People spend most of their lives in the workplace so I feel like businesses should take some responsibility for encouraging a healthier lifestyle, more than just offering an occupational health number. My Crossfit gym (Crossfit XIXI) get involved in workplace wellness initiatives that are tailored to each business need, ive been lucky enough to see a bit of what goes on behind the scenes, plus Crossfit is the biggest advocate for health so if businesses are lucky enough to have survived the pandemic and people are more aware of their health in general, then we need to strike whilst the iron is hot. Im also currently in the middle of completing a course that will allow me to operate as a qualified Nutrition coach, so im hoping I can put that to some use within the workplace in the future.

‘Now is a great time to try and create awareness’

I got the drive and determination from the people that judged me or tried to stop me getting where I wanted to be, they just became obstacles that I looked at and figured out less obvious ways to get round them! At the time, they were super frustrating, but it just made me more open minded and creative I guess. I have to say I got most of my personality charateristics from my Mum, who also worked in the Construction sector within HR and L&D, so she was always a huge inspiration, I’m an only child and again you get judged for that sometimes, I guess im just not overly keen on being labelled or put in a box.

 

The great thing about being a female in my role is that I enjoy being the minority, its makes it easier to be noticed, which means you have to take the opportunity to shine and leave your impression whilst you are elevated! I also think being the minority brings a different dynamic, which challenges the people in that environment and their mindsets, it encourages more openmindedness which is never a bad thing. Being able to have an input into who we recruit into the business is also good as I ask different questions during the interview process too.

My biggest achievement in life is having the self confidence to walk away from a job that hadn’t turned out the way I thought it would, I could have took very easy options and gone back to positions and companies that I had already been and done, but I held true to myself and if I hadnt I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to ask about my current role, id have probably stuck to my safety net of merchanting and I never would have experienced being a postie!

From a non work aspect, I’d say jumping off the stratosphere in Las Vegas is definitely up there!

The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt along the way would be always hold your hands up when you’ve made a mistake, we’re only human! It saves you a lot of anxiety when you come clean and it means you can take ownership and use your energy to resolve things quicker instead of worrying about being found out.

‘Hold your hands up when you’ve made a mistake’

Now I look back, at certain stages I think my gender has bought unnecesary challenges to my career, more whilst trying to progress up the ranks, but it was more because of individual mindsets at senior management level than in any other area. But nothing good ever comes easy does it?! And I feel like its helped me get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Outside work, my favourite hobbies are Crossfit, it is a huge part of my life, ive been doing it for just over 3 years now, it challenges me with my fitness every day and theres still so many movements I cant do properly! Ive always been a gym goer, but Crossfit is just different, Id encourage everyone to at least give it a try! I recently tried brazilian ju jitsu so im hoping to also work that into my schedule somewhere. I love being outdoors hiking, visiting new places, experiencing new cultures, baking, snowboarding and eating! Im so passionate about food and trying new things! I love doing hands on things like DIY and upcycling vintage furniture and also reading at every given opportunity, im such a book worm.

The mantra I live my life by is ‘Live life with no regrets! Treat people the way you wish to be treated yourself.’

The three tips I would give to young females starting their careers are to look outside the traditional career boxes, do lots of research and keep an open mind. Ask lots of questions about anything you want, don’t be scared to distract someone in order to get information as everyone youre speaking to has been in your shoes! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, as you grow older you might change your mind! Its better to try something and figure out yourself if you don’t like it, your first career choice isnt your only one!

‘Live life with no regrets’

The best bit of advice I have ever been given would be stop trying so hard to please other people! this is something im still working on, but its hard when you like helping people. So this is something I have to tell myself regularly.

A woman who has impaced my life would contrevarsially be Ru Paul! Technically a man in drag, but still an absolute queen! Ru Paul conveys so many important educational messages about diversity, equality, racism, gender identity, privilege and also just on embracing the person you are and being true to yourself. 

My key motivators are helping people and being able to add value to someones life or a team/business. Being challenged so that I have to learn and develop new skills.

I’m not sure enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance although I would be concerned if businesses started just employing people based on their sex though. I think there needs to be more of an education piece on the sectors that are severely imbalanced, to figure out why that is. What is it about the construction sector that isnt attractive to women? And what do we do about it to improve that? Because from where I am right now, that’s the real issue. You can have the most diverse mindset in the world, but you can only interview the candidates that present themselves to you. There’s some fantastic careers to be had in the Construction sector, I wonder if people think you have to know all the technical aspects of construction to be in this game? If anything, it’s a sector that is constantly changing and evolving so its impossible to know everything!

‘Treat people the way you wish to be treated yourself’

Some strategies that could help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations would be to suss out the senior management within your work place, especially your line manager. A good line manager will take pride in getting you where you want to get. If you don’t feel like you are getting the support, figure out a plan to work around that, network with other members of senior management, communicate your concerns or ask very specific questions in regards to what you need to do to achieve promotion. Also understand that sometimes, if you are good at your job, people wont want to lose you so they might try to make you feel that you arent that good at your job and arent ready. You will know yourself when you feel ready!

The advice I would give for women aiming for leadership positions would be to network as much as possible! Because you never know what might happen in the future and if you cant seem to be able to get the position you are after in your current work place, there will be somewhere else that you might be a perfect fit for! Also, try and get a decent amount of experience working with different managers, it will allow you to shape your own leadership style, observe, listen, ask questions, don’t be scared to challenge other people too. Stay fair and consistent in your approach to people, if you are open and transparent, passionate about what you are trying to achieve and don’t make promises you cant keep you cant really go wrong! 

One key leadership lesson I’ve learned along the way would be that communication is the key! Understand that communication is an art form and relies on words, actions, delivery, timing, being genuine with your intention and make sure you remember to listen! People think communicating is really easy, but doing it affectively can actually be super difficult!

‘Communication is the key’

If I could say anything to my 16 year old self it would be don’t compare yourself to what everyone else has or is doing, concentrate on getting to know yourself and what makes you happy and be prepared to work hard! But also remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and don’t put yourself under too much pressure!

I’d love to help promote awareness of how hard it can be struggling with periods in the work place, especially in a male dominated work place where there is a huge lack of understanding or empathy. Even doctors arent overly educated with it either, but its only ever going to get better if the people that suffer talk about it more. When I first started at Watson Homes, we didn’t have any sanitary bins on sites, but one of our contracts managers organised them to be rolled out to all our sites. I don’t spend a huge amount of time on site, but its actions like that that this industry needs more of. Ive since been sending them ‘sani -selfies’ when I have spotted the bins on sites mainly for a bit of a laugh and also to talk about them more openly as I have to do my bit too!

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