In our regular column celebrating brilliant high achievers, plumbing suprema Hattie Hasan relates her extraordinary journey.
I’m a first-generation Turkish Cypriot and in the 80s, at least in my family, girls were expected to get married and have children. That was it, nothing else.
So I had to literally run away to avoid an arranged marriage. Being a practical sort, I had organised somewhere to go (courtesy of rooms in university halls in Reading), but as far as everyone was concerned, I had disappeared.
This action brought shame onto my family from our community. Girls didn’t go to university in our culture and I was once actually told, “No one wants to marry a girl with a brain.”
Although I was soon able to reconcile with my mum and siblings, my decision meant that it has taken me until recently to establish any kind of decent relationship with my dad.
My mum was always an inspiration to me. Throughout our childhood she showered love onto the five of us, even though she wasn’t getting any herself. She was (and is) so strong but she’s also humble. She just got on with what she had to do, loved us and did her best by us all.
“I think I can justifiably make the claim that women make better tradespeople. Being in such a minority, we have to do an excellent job or we’re ‘letting the side down’.”
I eventually left teaching in 1990, after feeling driven away by the extreme bureaucracy of the National Curriculum. I’ve always been practical and handy, so I looked at what I love and want from life from a very practical perspective.
I had a good lifestyle as a teacher, so being able to at least maintain that was and is important to me. I needed something that allowed me to take control of my own life and work for myself.
I am completely awed by water. It’s such a fundamental for life and it shapes the earth. It’s so powerful. To manipulate that power is extremely exciting to me, like being a god. I loved metal too, so it was simple; something practical that would enable me to help people and put me in contact with water. So I became a plumber.
Twenty-six years later, Stopcocks is a national company of self-employed plumbers. Our simple mission is to serve customers and their homes with respect and deliver an excellent standard of work and customer service.
I am extremely proud of the work we’ve done. One of our plumbers told us, “I don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t found you. I hated everyone and could’ve ended up in the gutter.” Her business is thriving, her kids are healthy and she’s just got married.
I’m also proud of the work we’re doing in Kenya. We’ve collaborated with a children’s home and community to build a technologically appropriate rainwater harvesting system and they are now creating more themselves.
They wanted us to do the work because they wanted a great job, but they also wanted to show the whole community that they don’t have to be bound by gender stereotypes.
It’s still incredibly difficult for women in the trades here. The numbers are so tiny, especially plumbers. Being so few we are often totally invisible, to customers and within the industry.
It still doesn’t occur to enough customers to look for a tradeswoman first (unless they know about us). But I think it might be even more important that the industry doesn’t have to take us seriously because we’re such a small number. This is made worse by the fact that many plumbing companies are just a few guys working for themselves and not really coming into contact with the modern world.
But work standards, and especially customer service, have slipped right down. As outsiders, tradeswomen see this. I would suggest that, to some tradesmen, to make space for women feels like accepting what a rubbish job so many of them are doing.
I think I can justifiably make the claim that women make better tradespeople. Being in such a minority, we have to do an excellent job or we’re ‘letting the side down’. Of course there are men who provide excellent service and these men who are doing high-quality work and serving their customers with respect are suffering too, because of the majority who ‘muddle through’.
We’ve tirelessly attempted to address this culture but not had as much success as we would like. We’ve enabled more women to qualify; we’ve tried collaborations with housing associations, maintenance companies and other industry partners. But it’s hard. We were recently refused funding from a large industry body for our proposed scheme to get women qualified ‘en masse’ because the women weren’t already employed… You do the maths.
So after years of struggling to get women trained, we have decided to concentrate instead on making our business the best company of plumbers in the land and that way support women to become plumbers.
Meet more of our Glass Ceiling Smashers here.
Plumbers (male and female) who feel they reach Stopcocks’ high standards of work and respect are encouraged to request an information pack: call 0800 862 0010 or email [email protected]
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Hattie Hasan is a passionate plumber and the founder of Stopcocks. She was first in her family to go to university and now runs a unique national business with the vision of a world where there are no barriers in work or education. She LOVES Kate Bush.