Chris Jones asks what your image of a typical plumber is?

If you’re asked to picture a plumber the chances are that if you don’t think of Nintendo’s ever popular gaming hero Super Mario then you might conjure up the image of a slightly overweight middle-aged white man in blue jeans or greasy overalls.

Stereotypes should always be challenged, but the thing about generalisations is that they generally have a nugget or two of truth behind them.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the heating and plumbing industry is not exactly a representative sample of the broad demographics of the UK, with the female side of the population very much outnumbered and ethnic minorities about as common as a burka at a Trump rally.

Is the industry as inclusive and welcoming of diversity as it should be?

Chris Jones PHAM News Chris Jones Editor of Plumbing, Heating & Air Movement News

Are things changing?

Accurate figures are hard to come by, but it is estimated that only 1% of plumbing professionals are women.

Clearly there are no physical or mental barriers that might discourage girls from pursuing what many would argue is an interesting and rewarding career on the tools, but any girl that signs up for a plumbing course is still likely to find herself very much in the minority.

One of the reasons why plumbing remains low on the list of possible pathways for aspiring school girls is that they have been lacking in role models and potential mentors, but are things slowly starting to change?

Good role models 

The good news is that in recent years there has been a concerted effort from industry trade bodies and training organisations to ensure that they are no longer perceived as representing a male-only environment.

For the first time in its venerable history, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering currently has a female as its President, while WaterSafe, the water industry’s registration scheme for qualified plumbers, has launched its ‘Get Girls Plumbing’ campaign in a bid to encourage more young women to apply for plumbing apprenticeships.

Elsewhere, the training and apprenticeship organisation JTL has been running an ambassadors programme that seeks to provide good role models for women and ethnic communities. 

Growing suppport

Franchise businesses Pink Plumbing and the aptly named Stopcocks not only offer an effective branding opportunity for ambitious women plumbers, but also provide a support network for the franchisees who might otherwise be wary about launching their own plumbing business.

The Women Installers Together (WIT) conference, now in its third year, has been well supported by industry suppliers and manufacturers and provides another vehicle for women in the trade to gather together and address industry issues.

Such initiatives have helped to ensure that there is now no shortage of examples of successful women plumbers and eyebrows are no longer raised when Joe the plumber turns out to be Josephine.

How diverse are we?

It is hoped that a woman who enters the industry today would no longer have to suffer from the bigotry and discrimination that may have been barriers to progress in the past, but are prejudices still creating artificial boundaries for those of different ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientation?

Is the industry as inclusive and welcoming of diversity as it should be?

For any customer-facing business, it makes sense for companies to employ people who might reflect the diverse nature of the households they’re likely to be working for, but, while numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is still some way to go before the plumbing and heating industry can truly claim to be representative of the population it serves.

Chris Jones is editor of Plumbing, Heating & Air Movement News