Name - Sophie Hodges
Role - Senior Proposals Engineer
Team - Commercial
Based - Head office (hybrid)
Sophie is one of our senior proposals engineers, responsible for developing complex bids for a variety of contracts and areas of work. A passionate member of the Ability community, Sophie discusses her non-visible disability, the challenges this presents and how she’s been supported at Tarmac to manage her health alongside her work.
I kicked my construction career off working in a ground stabilisation and piling organisation, primarily in the rail department where I developed civil engineering experience. A friend of mine actually suggested the idea of bid writing, which I had never even heard of. A year later I'd decided I wanted to move away from commercial contracts and try something different. The assistant bid writer position came up with Tarmac which I applied for and was offered. Unfortunately, covid struck shortly after I started, which was a tough period to start somewhere new, but I must have coped well with the challenges it posed as I was promoted to bid writer and have since been promoted to senior bid writer!
When the Ability community was launched, I was very keen to be involved as a strong ally as I’m registered disabled myself. I’m passionate in general about health and wellbeing in the construction sector and have always been very conscious of making sure people felt comfortable at work, so this was a great opportunity to try and help make a difference. I was diagnosed at 17 with ulcerative colitis and spent a fortnight in hospital receiving intravenous steroids - I was very lucky to avoid having part of my bowel removed. However, the steroids didn’t work long-term, so I tried a variety of other medication all with fairly grizzly side effects! I then spent my university life being quite unwell, trying to push through to make sure I didn’t miss out whilst working hard to get my assignments done. Part of my illness is fatigue, so it was pretty hard to manage. My illness was also the main reason I didn’t stay on to do a Masters or PGCE (teaching course) because I was just too poorly.
For a long time, it caused a lot of anxiety for me as I was never really open about it, and I didn’t have the skills to manage the emotional side of it myself. Particularly when I was younger, I found it difficult to talk about and as I progressed into the world of work and started applying for jobs, I didn’t want to be given an interview purely based on being disabled – I wanted to be the best candidate and earn things myself. When I applied for my role with Tarmac, there was the option to disclose whether you had a disability or not and I selected ‘no’. I didn’t want any ‘freebies’ or to be treated any differently, and I was conscious of the potential stigma, and looking back now that approach did ironically make it much harder for me. I would push myself through the day a lot of the time despite being very ill at times because I was so focused on being “the same” as everyone else.
These days, everyone knows, and since discussing with my manager and team, the pressure to hide how I’m feeling or just push through things is gone. Tarmac’s hybrid working policy off the back of the covid period has benefited me hugely, and if I am in the office and I need to leave I feel comfortable being able to do that. My experience has been really positive with the support I’ve had, and one of my main goals of being so proactive in the Abillity community is that me sharing my story will help someone else feel comfortable to be open about an issue they might have.
Having a non-visible disability can be hugely challenging and I’m hoping that my openness will help others in the same or similar situations feel confident to be open with others.
Everyone is different, but I’d advise anyone applying for a role at Tarmac with any sort of disability to be open about it. We’re moving in such a positive direction with the introduction of the Ability community, creating safe spaces to talk openly and educating line managers on the variety of things to consider when hiring someone new. Be brave, be proud and go for it.