Chloe Shakesby

IWD 2021: London environmental director Ruth Cobb on women realising "just how capable" they are during lockdown

For International Women’s Day 2021, Bdaily spoke to women across London about adapting to life in the pandemic.

Ruth Cobb is the managing director of Simply, a London based environmental services firm.

She spoke to Bdaily about the balancing act of running a business while homeschooling children.

As a woman, how have you personally adapted during the pandemic, and what challenges have you faced?

As a woman, during the pandemic I have had to balance running a business alongside childcare and homeschooling.

Simply has continued to work throughout the pandemic and lockdown’s as we provide essential services, including fresh water deliveries and toilet waste removal, to a range of sites across London and the South East including construction projects and NHS Covid testing facilities. It has been vital that we provide our services within a quick turnaround time so our clients can continue to function efficiently and in a safe manner.

For me, I have had to ensure I am leading the way when it comes to my team, making sure I am on top of their needs when it comes to their wellbeing and safety as well as ensuring we are easing the pressure on our clients. We have had to ensure we have continued to provide clients with reliable 24/7 response solutions.

As well as this, I also have two young children to look after. I have had to learn to prioritise my day so that both my business and my children are receiving the attention they need. I have learnt to become more flexible and patient whilst recognising the need to ask for help sometimes.

How have you and your business supported women during the past year?

When I started back at Simply in 2004, I was the only woman within the business. Since purchasing the company in 2019, I have expanded the female workforce so that we now represent 23 per cent of the team. I aim to inspire young women to work within the waste management and construction sectors and encourage diversity and equality within the workforce.

As part of this, Simply has supported its female team members through having access to mentoring with myself, training opportunities, as well as being able to use an on-site company gym and break out room for any moments where they need time out.

We are also a Mindful Employer, recognising the need to safeguard the mental health of our team – something which has been incredibly important during the Coronavirus pandemic.

What opportunities do you feel that the pandemic has created for women, if any?

Women have always been strong and capable. I myself, and the ladies at Simply who are also mothers, have always managed to balance both our children and work. This was even before a global pandemic. I think the pandemic, however has made many women realise just how capable they can be and that they don’t have to necessarily put their careers on hold.

In your opinion, has the pandemic highlighted any gender imbalances in business?

As a woman with a business in the construction industry, I can say how the sector has always been male dominated so the pandemic has not exacerbated this. However, with many women losing jobs during the pandemic, or having to go on furlough, lots of these women are now coming through the sector and embarking on a career in what has previously been stereotyped as a ‘man’s job’. The construction industry currently faces a skills shortage and with the industry being at the forefront of many governmental policies and more roles available, these jobs provide access to a stable income during the pandemic. We are seeing more female drivers and also site managers which is great.

As we step into a post-pandemic business landscape, how do you think women’s roles in business may change?

Post-pandemic, I think that we will see more and more women working within the construction sector and helping to create a more equal and diverse workplace. Although we are key workers and so work in an environment that can’t always be flexible in terms of working from home, I do believe that more businesses will encourage flexible hours as the pandemic has shown just how successful homeworking can be.

Women have always been powerful and able when it comes to running a business. I have never doubted this.

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