Typing pools, stencilling price sheets by hand and making phone calls from a phone box – just some of the things that were the norm when Lauren Haines started working as a typist for Elliotts Builders Merchant in December 1973.
Fifty years on and much has changed, but one thing remains the same - Haines still works for Elliotts, one of the South’s oldest family-run businesses.
“When I interviewed for Elliotts I thought “it’ll do for now”, and I was offered the job in the typing pool for the brick department.”
“Because I was typing a lot about bricks, etc. it was interesting to understand what was happening and learn about the products.
“There was an opening to work in the brick office and I put myself forward for the job. The director at the time thought I’d be too quiet for the role, but I was given the opportunity, and the rest is history.”
Haines then went on to revamp and manage Elliotts’ brick library, the biggest on the South coast, before managing the sales office. She then made company history by becoming the company's first female Director in the early 2000s.
But as a woman in a male-dominated industry, career progression hasn’t always been easy.
“When I was running the brick library in the 80’s, it was quite noticeable at that time that being a woman in the industry was tough. Anyone coming into the brick library would automatically go to the guys, who were actually my apprentices.”
“As a woman, you had to push to be given the chance. You had to be better and work harder than some of the men to be taken seriously. It showed in being involved with customers, architects, etc. – you only had one chance. If you could help them, then you’d won. You just had to be just that little bit better – you had to prove that you knew what you were talking about.”
“But Elliotts has been very supportive over the last 50 years. I’ve done well through the support of the company and through working hard and wanting to do it.”
Over her 50 years at Elliotts, Haines has seen the company grow from two to 13 branches and has worked under three different members of the Elliotts family (currently under Tom Elliott, CEO and sixth generation of the Elliotts family). But the biggest changes Haines has seen over the last 50 years are with technology and how we work.
“Technology is definitely the biggest change I’ve seen, and it can be hard to keep up with.
“I remember when we first got computers and we (the Directors) put ourselves on an evening course. We really engaged in it, and I’m glad that we did. You can’t slip backwards, you have to move forwards.”
“Covid-19 has definitely changed how we engage. Time wise, you can have much quicker meeting via Teams, but you can’t replace face to face. Everyone has been wanting to get back to face to face.”
In recent years, there has been more focus on trying to make the construction industry more attractive as a career option for women. According to the Office of National Statistics, women made up 15.8% of the construction workforce from April to June 2023 – the highest percentage since records began.
“I don’t feel that there are as many barriers now [for women entering the construction industry]. If you want the opportunity, it Is there.
“Some women will have a career gap to have a family – so you want to work for a company that will support you. We’ve had a lot of change at Elliotts in the past few years, including more flexible working and enhanced company maternity pay.
“It makes a big difference in being able to retain and attract fantastic women to the business.”
Although she has 50 years of work under her belt, Haines has no plans to give up work any time soon.
“I’m still enjoying it, I wouldn’t be at Elliotts if I didn’t. I know I can’t work forever, but I have no plans to retire.”