Lesley Johnson
Monday 8th March 2021 - 15:58

Challenging Women

The roots of International Women’s Day are in the struggle against the inequality and exploitation of working-class women - including the huge demonstrations organised by American working women in 1909. They were demanding political rights beyond the vote granted to middle-class women; and the women textile workers in Russia who went on strike in February 1917, taking their male colleagues with them and triggering the Russian revolution. 

Collective women’s struggles have won important reforms for women - and battles continue, for example, the equal pay campaign in Glasgow and defending the right to legal abortion in Poland. Women have also been key to winning better provision and conditions in housing. The Focus E15 campaign group was formed in 2013 by a group of mothers who fought eviction away from their families and support networks and inspired campaigns elsewhere across the UK.  

Like many, I stumbled into a career in housing and then the particularly male-dominated world of property. As a housing officer, I was once introduced as ‘the crumpet from the association’, and I have been in meetings and teams where I was the only woman and professional events that were like gentlemen’s clubs. (You learn quickly not to make the tea, however much you are dying for a cup.) 

It is so important that we have diversity in all parts of the housing sector so that we can respond to the communities we serve, and we still have a long way to go. But what has kept me sane is knowing that we can change things for the better, and I am grateful to all those who were patient with me at my most militant and gave me opportunities in a career that I didn’t know was available to me. 

If I were to give advice to women thinking about or working in property and construction, it would be to challenge yourself. Challenge backward ideas, make the sector fairer and more socially just for everyone, have a great time, make a difference and in doing so, know that you honour all those who fought for us to have the opportunities we do.