The woman challenging the ideals of what a great scaffolder should be.

Mention the word ‘scaffolding’ and what do most people think of? A male-dominated, tough-guy industry, which is no place for a woman. There’s a perception women are just not physically or mentally strong enough to consider scaffolding as a serious career choice. Anyone thinking that hasn’t met Maggie.

In January 2018 Maggie became the first woman to sign on for a NZ Scaffolding Apprenticeship. Already she has Leading Hand status, is a Health and Safety rep and has won the respect of everyone she works for and with. It’s an inspiring story.

While labouring at the Marsden Point Refinery in Whangarei, she saw that there was a need for extra scaffolders on the weekends. “It was overtime work and I needed the money. They said no, so I put my foot down and kept asking until I got my way. I’m very determined.

Maggie working cropped

That is how Maggie got the initial experience in scaffolding she needed. Then she saw an ad for scaffolders. She applied, knowing she wasn’t going to get past HR. “Because I was a woman. They wouldn’t say that to your face, but I just knew. It made me want the job even more. I annoyed the guys who ran the scaffolders until they gave me a shot.”
Being a woman, Maggie decided she had to do things better than anyone else. It’s the way she works, but it's also to prove a point. And it’s a work ethos that has served her well. “Because being a female on a construction site you feel like you are going to have a target on your back.”

She says she was lucky. “I had a well-respected Leading Hand. He pushed me at times to make sure I was keeping up. But, I’d told him I was there to do the work and not be treated like a princess. He kept me on my toes.”

Maggie has never experienced any issues or trouble. “It has always been sweet.” She said that people were really supportive. “Initially, there were a couple of workers who went OMG, whatever…you won’t be able to do it.” She proved them wrong. Maggie doesn’t have a big physical build, but once they could see she was able and willing, they fell into line. “They didn’t give me any sh*t!” She says there was no resentment and nobody tried to makes things difficult for her. Once she was on board, she found great support from everyone.

Maggie eventually moved from Whangarei to Auckland and joined South Pacific Scaffolding. She says it’s a really good company to work for because everyone gets along and they are all good mates. It’s like family. “It’s awesome experiencing the stuff we are doing down here. I was used to industrial scaffolding, now I’m 40 metres up doing high rises in the city. It’s really exciting.”

Maggie at times leads crews, and she has been voted the Health and Safety Rep by her colleagues. She checks everyone is happy with their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), deals with any safety concerns and makes sure the scaffolding is built to the guidelines. “You need people like me on site who are really strict, to yell when someone is not doing the right thing and putting themselves in danger. Everyone looks out for each other and is willing to speak out and intervene if something is not right."

And it’s not just the crews who trust her and ask for her help. The GM recently asked her go over all the safety procedures and check they were up to date. There was a lot of consultation, with input from the workers as well. That’s what Maggie really likes – when everyone is talking and solving problems, bosses and workers alike.

In the early days she found it hard to match plans and an actual structure. “At first I thought it was impossible; I’ll never be able to imagine a scaffold that’s not actually there.” But Maggie watched carefully and learned.

There is no minimum educational requirement for scaffolding. What’s important is common sense. I was never the brightest spark at maths, but I’ve learned on the job. We use algebra sometimes. Once you have gone through it a couple of times with someone who can explain it, you get the hang of things. It’s a different kind of maths. I’m amazed now at how much I can actually do with algebra. It’s practical and useful.”

Asked what she enjoys most about scaffolding Maggie says, “Definitely the challenge …and the hard work.” That’s what has earned her the respect of her co-workers. It’s about trust and being comrades. “You rely on each other. It’s a crew atmosphere. You make some great friendships in this industry.”