Businesswoman is a trailblazer in a ‘man’s world’

editorial image

A PIONEERING woman in the construction industry who has battled sexist attitudes has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award.

Quantity surveyor Kathryn Ladley has worked in the industry for 45 years and sometimes it has felt like a man’s world.

CHILDHOOD: Kathryn Ladley nee Houghton aged three.

CHILDHOOD: Kathryn Ladley nee Houghton aged three.

She has overcome chauvinism like ‘it’s too demanding for a girl’ and ‘it’s not fair you are taking a man’s job and are being paid a man’s wage’.

The 65-year-old was nominated for the lifetime achievement award by her employers NPS Leeds in the construction category at the recent European Women in Construction and Engineering Awards.

She was praised for her trailblazing and for her ‘skills and integrity, care and diligence’.

Mrs Ladley, of West Bretton, has come a long way since her early days living in a two up and two down terrace house on Dale Street, Ossett with an outside toilet.

She said: “Bath night was a tin bath in front of an open coal fire. Money was always tight, especially in winter when the bad weather meant my bricklayer dad couldn’t work and therefore didn’t get paid.”

She passed her 11 plus and was awarded a scholarship to Notre Dame Grammar School in Leeds. Her family scrimped and saved to keep her there until she was 18 and could progress to Leeds Polytechnic.

Mrs Ladley, nee Houghton, said: “Looking back, I admit that I came into quantity surveying almost by accident. I find it hard to believe how naïve I was.

“I had come from an all-girls convent school and although I had some knowledge of construction, I had no experience of relationships with boys on a day-to-day social level. I was staggered, on my first day at college, to find I was the only girl in a class of 24.

CUTTING: A newspaper article about Kathryn Houghton being the only girl on her polytechnic course.

CUTTING: A newspaper article about Kathryn Houghton being the only girl on her polytechnic course.

“Things were very different back in the early 1970s when I began my career. Not only was I the only girl on my course at Leeds Polytechnic, I was the only girl in the whole of the Building and Engineering Department.”

Things got so bad three months into her studies that Mrs Ladley was on the point of quitting. But she had an epiphany moment during a tearful commute.

Mrs Ladley added: “I suppose ‘slow and steady wins the race’ has always been my philosophy, coupled with a determination not to give up. I was never interested in being a trailblazer, I just had a determination to chip away at the status quo to achieve what I wanted to. That day my resolve was to prove that I could do the job as well as any boy and ended up proving I could do it better than most.

“During my first year at college Leeds Polytechnic ran a publicity campaign featuring me to try to recruit more girls onto their courses. There was also some publicity when I graduated by which time I was married to Ian. It is a sad reflection of the time and the status of women that the strapline was “Wife’s BSc”.

A long career with Leeds City Council and the private sector followed. The grandmother-of-one has worked for joint venture company NPS for the last five years. She added: “I feel, in my own quiet way, I have left my stamp on the industry. I’m 65 and realistically my time as a quantity surveyor is coming to an end – but I still feel I have something to give. My only regret is that because of family circumstances and events I was not able to give more back to the industry in its quest to achieve greater diversity. Perhaps it’s still not too late.”