2009 WISE SET Discovery, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award Winner

Barbara Jones

Director at StrawWorks Ltd

I have been training women in manual trades since 1996. With my co-Director Eileen Sutherland, I set up the School of Natural Building (SNaB) in 2014, which offers training courses on real building sites for both men and women. I am sought after internationally to speak and teach because of my ability and experience in teaching, encouraging, and empowering women into manual work, specifically natural building. I have developed an empowering and inclusive way of teaching practical skills on building sites that many say is transformative, and this style has been adopted by many other trainers. It is one of the reasons why we are so successful at attracting women into the sector. I am very proud to say that we had our first 8 graduates in 2018 from those who followed the SNaB curriculum, 7 of them were women, and in the School, 62% of our students are women. We have a successful way of encouraging and empowering women into natural building.

Winning the WISE award has helped by giving me a little status in a world where my skills are predominantly not recognised or valued. It is hard to be heard as a woman in such a traditional ‘man’s’ world.

In 2020 over a million women are working in core STEM! What do you think will happen in the next 20 years to the gender balance in STEM industries? Is there anything you plan to do to support it?

Whilst the first sentence is true, I am very disappointed that in my own field of manual trades, which I began in 1980, the numbers of women working on the tools has not changed at all in 40 years. It was 1% then and it is still 1% now.

I have had a long and very satisfying career in manual work, and in running my own businesses as well as continuing to do practical work. It is a great job! But the stereotypes against women following in my footsteps are very off-putting and the barriers that existed in the 1980s are still there, if not worse, as there are now no routes to training that are free.

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