Construction degree’s only female fresher says she stands out ‘in a positive way’

The only woman on her university course in construction hopes winning a prestigious grant will inspire others and change the face of the industry – though her family still can’t imagine her in a hard hat.

Damilola Ola, 19, is more than a match for the men in the first year of her Construction Management course at Coventry University, which awarded her a prestigious scholarship.

The teenager was among a record number of 30 students to win the university’s Ada Lovelace scholarship this year, which encourages women to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.

The funding from Tata Technologies allows Coventry students more time to focus on their own studies and on outreach programmes with schools to encourage a new generation of girls into the field.

Damilola, from Northfield, Birmingham, said:

“I’m the only girl on my course but that makes me stand out in a positive way. I want to be noticed and to make changes and already by talking to my friends and younger people I can start in a small way.

“We go around construction sites and offices and there are virtually no women to be seen, it is so rare but there’s no reason for it to be like that.

 “My friends and family all questioned my decisions and now when I talk about being on site or in a hard hat they can’t relate to it – but they’re all interested and that’s the key because people really want to know more and it starts a discussion.

 “The problem is stereotypes and lack of knowledge, especially for young girls. But if we can show that these jobs exist and are open to anyone, then the changes will happen.”

UCAS figures show that, across all universities last year only 450 women were accepted to full-time building degree courses, compared with 2,380 men.

Academics at Birmingham City University have also claimed that key skills gaps in the West Midlands could be significantly reduced if more women enter male dominated industries like manufacturing and engineering.

Birmingham City University is working with schoolgirls to demonstrate the merits of future study and careers in the fields in a bid to help meet the needs of the region’s workforce.

Collectively, Coventry University, Birmingham City University and the University of Wolverhampton form the West Midlands Combined Universities, which aim to support the priorities of the West Midlands Combined Authority in creating jobs, skills and growth across the region.

Ian Dunn, deputy vice chancellor at Coventry University said:

With Coventry’s history being rooted in engineering it seems only right that we look to securing the next generation of inspiring leaders in the city.

“We are really proud of our Ada Lovelace scholarship and the talent that it promotes. All the work being done to encourage more girls into science and technology is a hugely important and we congratulate and thank all 30 of our worthy recipients for their dedication and hard work.”