Women in the Rope Access Industry Article

© Martin Castle Ltd

Joanna Castle discusses the topic of women in rope access. In this traditionally male-dominated industry, we may be on the cusp of change...

Statistically, only a small percentage of those working in rope access identify as women. This fact may come as no surprise, as similar statistics can be seen throughout the entire industrial sector: construction, fire fighting, mechanics, plumbing, carpentry - the list of professions dominated by men goes on and on.

Slowly but surely, more women are joining the rope access industry.
© Martin Castle Ltd

But why the lack of female rope access technicians? We have certainly seen a noticeable increase in the number of female climbers - isn't it about time that we see the same upward trend in the rope access industry?

It's not that the female form is incapable of handling the work, nor is it a complete lack of interest in the work from women across the board. However, there do appear to be other more subtle factors at play and in this article we'll be discussing the role of women in the work at height industry.

Is rope access 'men's work'?

There's a prevailing idea in our society that jobs involving manual labour and physical strength are not 'appropriate' for women. Rope access work is undeniably quite taxing and physical, involving a great deal of strength and confidence – perhaps some would still see rope access as 'men's work' for this very reason. Unfortunately, attitudes such as these often deter women from even considering a career in rope access, depriving the industry of a large number of strong and capable workers.

Let's just get one thing straight: both men and women are capable of performing rope access work to a very high standard. Common misconceptions stem from the fact that most people who do manual work are indeed men. This fact has no bearing whatsoever on the ability of women to perform rope access work, and you needn't be deterred from the industry solely on the basis of statistics and outdated stereotypes.

Women on the ropes

Despite the fact that women are underrepresented in the rope access industry, we have seen the number of female trainees and technicians slowly increasing in recent years. Indeed, we now live in an age where there are more and more women pursuing careers in manual trades.

This proves that being underrepresented doesn't mean being discouraged! There is no reason why a strong presence of men in the industry should deter willing and capable women from getting involved and diversifying workforces the world over. Just look where it got Loui McCurley, one of the founding members of the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (the US equivalent of IRATA).

Dispelling the misconceptions

As with many other industries, the male-dominated spaces involved in rope access work can be off-putting for many women. Some worry about feeling left out, experiencing sexual harassment or being given expectations lower than those held for their male counterparts. However, with the level of trust and concentration required on the ropes, workers are required to act as members of one big interdependent team in which everyone plays a fundamental part. In practice, therefore, there's often no time for anything but complete confidence in one another.

The most important factor is that everyone works hard, pulls their weight, looks out for one another and stays safe. In addition, we have only ever experienced companies and contractors in the rope access industry that are entirely professional and respectful. Ultimately, their number one priority is that technicians are trained, experienced, capable and ready to get the job done!

Give rope access a go

As we all continue to strive for gender equality in the workplace, hopefully we will begin to see more and more women on the ropes. Of course it can be annoying having to prove yourself against existing prejudices, but the only way for attitudes to change is for women everywhere to ignore the doubts, forget the stereotypes and show everyone what they are truly capable of through hard work.

There are a whole variety of rope access jobs to experiment with and there is sure to be something for every type of worker, whatever your gender, skills and preferences are. If you're a skilled climber, completely comfortable with heights and manual work, able to work well under pressure and interested in the rope access industry, don't be deterred by the misconceptions. Know your worth: get trained up, get some experience, get stuck in!

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16 Oct, 2017
I've worked with a few women now over the years, never had a problem in fact it's great having women on a site as it tends make the tw*ts wind their necks in a bit! If you're interested I'd def recommend the wind industry as the work doesn't require as much brawn as some, nice views, good for the environment and decent money! Good luck and check out and for advice from those already doing it
16 Oct, 2017
There was a recent article in about the numbers of women in rope access. I was surprised by the numbers as I have worked with a number of other women so I didn't think it was going to be that low. For women climbing hard grades is mainly about technique and in rope assess you just have to think a bit more but there's always some way of making things easier to do.
16 Oct, 2017
The gender imbalance is even more pronounced in Scotland and particularly the North Sea, though the women I've worked with on the ropes offshore have been quite comfortable in that particular social and work environment. The reasons for so few females? As you say there are real reasons and percieved reasons and perhaps quite a few subtlties that are not quite so obvious, particularly to men. I knew a girl who was lined up for a job on a North Sea platform, only to be stood down at short notice because the rig had no female facilities, quite astonishing only 10 years ago. The situation in professional mountaineering is similar: there are quite a few female MIAs but at MIC that number drops off a lot, although there have been a few more qualifying in the last couple of years. At Guide level it's even fewer, off the top of my head only nine women BMG members. I've asked around a bit and the reasons appeared to be varied, but I was surprised by female friends commonly talking about the physical discomfort of working in cold mountain environments being a deterring factor. That said Rope Access is almost way easier on the body than winter climbing, except perhaps some geo jobs.
16 Oct, 2017
An estimate I got from someone in the industry was 1%; I wonder how accurate this is. I imagine route setting work has a much more favourable percentage, which, in basically being a form of rope access, might help encourage uptake elsewhere in the industry?
16 Oct, 2017
Any idea of percentage re the above? Similar to the attraction of winter climbing as a leisure pursuit I guess; perhaps the numbers will be similar in a relative sense.
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