AS International Women’s Day arrives, attention turns to the achievements, challenges, and progress of women in society. Exploring the role of women in traditionally male industries is a key element of this.

Take woodworking. Data suggests 88.1% of woodworkers are male, with only 15-20% of enrolments to furniture craft schools made up of women.

The renowned Chippendale International School of Furniture is seeking to address this. And it is succeeding. The current Professional Course boasts 8 female students, the highest ever in the school’s 37-year history. It may seem an insignificant number, but for a world-renowned establishment traditionally populated by predominantly men, this is a huge step forward for the sector.

Constance Graesslin de Mare, Chippendale International School of Furniture

A graduate of the Chippendale International School of Furniture, Constance Graesslin de Mare, agrees with that sentiment. Now a successful furniture-maker, Constance believes encouraging women into woodworking is beneficial for all: “It is much more rewarding to learn and evolve with different people. Diversity in anything makes an experience more meaningful and more human.

“I think it is important to bring more women into any industry in which they have been left out. The more women are seen doing this kind of work, the less we keep the stereotypes going, and the easier it is for others to feel like they can do anything they want.”

And Constance is clearly pioneering the way in that respect. Now located in France, Constance is in the minority as a female designer and furniture-maker. Yet, despite struggling to find overalls in her size, she stresses that her main challenges are “acquiring the techniques needed for my designs and getting better at that.”

For Constance, makers should be judged on their skill and technique alone, arguing that “the focus needs to be shifted. It shouldn’t be about what gender you are but simply what you are able to make and convey.” There is no quick fix, but Constance believes it starts with inspiring women with the confidence to follow any path that they feel should be theirs – “then it doesn’t matter who you are, you can embrace the craft.”

However, it’s not just woodworking that is attracting more women. Other traditionally “male-dominated” sectors, such as fintech and fish farming in Scotland, are witnessing a gradual increase in female talent.

The National:

Constance Graesslin de Mare, Chippendale International School of Furniture

Mia Dowman, Smart Data Foundry

Mia Dowman is one such woman. Driving Smart Data Foundry’s push to help financial organisations share data to inform social policy Mia is a leading figure in the world of FinTech, an industry in which only 17% of senior positions are held by women.

Yet despite her success in the field, Mia describes how pursuing this career was made difficult by a “stereotypical and limiting” careers guidance. While she credits access to quality education, strong parenting, and inspirational teachers for her ability to overcome such prejudice, she recognises that others are not so fortunate.

While recognising the efforts made by the Scottish Enterprise to support more female tech entrepreneurs, Mia suggests

more efforts should go toward engaging with audiences from all backgrounds and addressing

the obstacles that prevent them from accessing opportunities in FinTech.

“I strongly believe that we should be engaging and supporting all young minds to the possibilities of financial technology and data-enabled career paths as well as nurturing entrepreneurial minds and ideas to progress the development of more inclusive FinTech products and services.

Data and technology will eventually form the basis of every industry so it’s an exciting time to get involved and explore how both men and women can make their mark in this world. If we work harder to involve those with a shared passion on an inclusive basis, we have enough social challenges and global problems to address with our collective, entrepreneurial and innovative minds and skills.”

This attitude is reflected in Mia’s work and her determination to support other women in the tech sector. Working with Rachel Elnaugh of Dragons Den fame, Mia started and patented Girl Geek, the now well-known networking organisation for women in STEM careers.

Despite the disproportion of men in the FinTech sector, Mia sees hope for the future. “In the 20 years since I started in tech, there are significantly more women entering the industry, which is positive to witness. However, I feel more needs to be done to encourage women to enter this exciting industry. Having more women working in key roles offers greater diversity of thought and better reflects the society & customers that FinTech seeks to serve. I want people in influential roles to be more accessible and inspire the younger generation to identify their vision and to create their own path, regardless of their gender.”

The National:

Mia Dowman, Smart Data Foundry 

Lindsay Pollock, Salmon Scotland

Lindsay Pollock, the head of sustainability at Salmon Scotland, thinks the same is true of the fish farming sector. “I do hope that we are raising generations of women who believe that if they want to do something, they can. There is a saying that “you can’t be what you can’t see” and as a sector, we need to do what we can to create that visibility and awareness of all the different career routes we have to offer.”

For salmon farming in Scotland which, in 2018, had a female workforce of only 11%, there seems a long way to go. Lindsay suggests that teaching children about aquaculture, and the various opportunities salmon farming can bring, could play a big part in encouraging more women into the sector. By raising awareness and highlighting females working in salmon farming, girls are more likely to explore it as an option,

But all is far from lost for fish farming. In 2019 the Scottish government invested £50,000 to help increase the number of women working in Scottish aquaculture. It seems to be working. Lindsay has witnessed an increase in women to the sector, especially in areas such as health and technical.

“I do sense a shift away from women in the sector being deemed unusual. Many leaders and organisations are very aware that having diverse teams results in better decision making. The employers I have worked with recognise this and have sought ways to bring the opinions and experience of a diverse group of people into their business.”

Progress is being made across Scotland, with more women entering traditionally male-dominated sectors. As these three women show, it is only by hiring women in these sectors that we can shape change for future generations.

The National:

Lindsay Pollock, Salmon Scotland