Meet Team Unbrick, A Platform That Enables Women To Go Boldly Into Male-Dominated Professions

Unbrick, founded by Kanchan Sharma and Divyaa Gupta wants to enable women to become electricians, painters, plumbers and more - for why shouldn't women have access to all livelihood opportunities too?

How many times have we seen women being employed as electricians, house painters, or carpenters? The answer would be very rarely. This is what Kanchan Sharma and Divyaa Gupta wanted to change.

The United Nation’s theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is ‘Gender Equality for a Sustainable Tomorrow’. Without gender equality and women’s economic participation, a sustainable and equal future remains out of reach.

In India, women’s participation in the labour force has been declining consistently over three decades now. There is a huge potential for women to be employed in non-traditional livelihoods (NTL) but gender inequality and discrimination make it difficult.

Kanchan and Divyaa started Unbrick in November 2021, with the aim enable women to develop skills and find employment in male-dominated professions.

Their first project is to train women in house painting and their first batch consists of a team of five vibrant young women named Diksha, Kajal, Aarti, Megha and Karan (who happens to be a trans woman).

“We want to start a growth trajectory for them…”

As an architect and interior designer, Kanchan began to notice the lack of women on construction sites and the strong gender division in the construction industry. Even when women were hired, they were always employed as construction labourers whereas higher-paid jobs like that of a carpenter, electrician or plumber were always done by men.

Divyaa, on the other hand, as a gender researcher, was part of projects such as ‘Women on Wheels’ and has worked with sex workers researching and creating NTL. Having had such experiences, they realized that training women in house painting and other construction activities is an untapped avenue and thus founded Unbrick.

On asking the founders what is unique about Unbrick, Kanchan says, “What we’re trying here is to induct them in a way that they know they’re here for a long time. It’s not just an event, where we tell people that this is happening and after six months, you don’t see that. We intend to retain them for a longer duration. Our initiative is for them to find their livelihood and growth in this sector. We’re creating that opportunity for them and not just limiting them to painting. We’re asking them to let us know if they like something. We’re going to have Saturday workshops and they are also learning English communication classes. If somebody wants to complete their 12th standard, we’re helping them with that too. So that with time, they can become site managers, site supervisors, etc. Right now, they’re just doing basic painting, but later on, they can specialize in wall textures, wall panelling or wallpapers. So, what we’re trying to do here is start a growth trajectory for them to figure out what they really want.”

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Unbrick Founders Kanchan Sharma & Divya Guptaa

The Mahila Panchayat in Delhi near their office, helped them to get in touch with women looking for work and after having had a few sessions with them, Unbrick recruited its first batch of women training to become house painters. One of the main goals for them is to ensure that transwomen are also included in this profession. They’re aware that this would bring up another set of challenges in their journey, but they’re determined to face it all.

“We get the freedom to do it ourselves and be independent.”

When I asked the team of women why they like working with Unbrick, one of them says, “What we like about our work is that we normally don’t get to do such work in our houses. Even if such work is available, we’re not allowed to do it saying that our brother or father will do it. But here we get the freedom to do it ourselves and be independent.”

On asking if they have become friendly with each other over time, they all shouted yes in joy and said that the founders were extremely supportive of them.

While at present, their priority is to train women in house painting, they’re also planning to expand to other male-dominant professions. Divyaa says, “We’re planning to train them as electricians and have also started something in the automation sector because that’s a booming sector. We recently got in touch with somebody who does plumbing too. We also want to explore these bigger machine operations like JCB, for example, that is usually done by men. We aim to skill women in these jobs and get them employed. So yeah, we plan to expand into more and more male-dominant roles within the construction sector.”

The Unbrick painting crew at work

Diksha, the youngest of the batch who recently completed her 12th standard says that she wishes to do this work till graduation. On asking if she faced any restrictions from her family, she says, “I never faced any issues from my family. My parents have never stopped me from doing anything. My mother says that I can do anything that I wish to.”

Kajal, who is pursuing her B.A. currently says that she too never had any restrictions from family and that she also had an interest in this work. She adds, “Initially I thought it would be hard to learn, but through practice, it has become easier. This is also something new and it makes me proud that even women can do such work.”

They shared with me an incident that involved their trainer. When the women asked their trainer a few doubts, he dismissed them by asking what they would do even after learning all this. “Such is their mentality. They think girls can’t do such work,” says one of the women.

As an architect, Kanchan was able to train them on the theoretical aspects but they wanted someone with practical knowledge. They reached out to many including corporates in the paints space but no avail. Finally, they hired a local trainer and tried to sensitize him but even then, he kept calling them “ladke” (boys!).

Aarti had a very different reason to join Unbrick, which she shares, “I wanted to do this work because my father is also a painter. He never allowed me to take this up saying that I would get tired and that my brother would do be a better fit for it. So, even when I was joining Unbrick, he was saying that I am a graduate and that I should work in an office instead of being a painter. By doing this work I want to prove to my father that it is not necessary that painting be taken up by only unskilled labourers. Anyone can do this. We’re also getting trained professionally with Unbrick, so we don’t feel like we’re doing unskilled labour.”

For Megha, a B.A. graduate, her passion to always learn something new is what drove her to be a part of the team. She reveals, “None of my family members had any problem with me joining Unbrick. They just asked me to take care of my safety. I was very scared on the first day but after attending Divyaa Ma’am’s class, I was very interested in learning more.”

“I feel very proud that a transwoman like me is working in this field.”

On asking Karan what her experience in this field is, she says, “It is very unique for a transwoman. Being a transwoman, it is very difficult to get good jobs and even if we get, we are not allowed to wear bindis or showcase our identities in any way. So, I am really happy and thank God for such founders who always supports us. Even my parents don’t support me saying that I insult them. I get what they are saying, but what about me? What about my life? We can’t do anything if we’re born like this. So, I have been staying away from my parents for two years now. I manage everything by myself. I applied for a lot of jobs and I did get them but none of them stayed for long because either the boss or HR asks me to leave before I even complete one week saying that I insult them because I’m a transwoman. But now, I feel very proud that a transwoman like me is working in this field. I have always been motivated by videos of many transgender women who have earned a name for themselves. I believe that if I keep doing this, I can earn a name for myself and also show my parents.”

She is also very happy that she finally has friends with whom she can share food with, because, before this, nobody really sat or ate with her.

The founders also echoed the young women’s’ enthusiasm and share that they feel very lucky to get to work with such a team of energetic women. They plan to train them to become trainers for the coming batches. “Now that these girls have come up to do this, a lot of women from these girls’ areas have contacted us and that’s the ripple we wanted to see happening,” says Divyaa.

I was so inspired by this team of women by the time I finished interviewing. Their determination and courage to explore and find growth in male-dominant professions against all odds are commendable. Like the founders, I hope that we can all see and live in houses fully constructed and painted by women in the nearby future.

You can follow their inspiring journey on Instagram or on Facebook

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