The days of having to rely on handymen in overalls may become a thing of the past as more and more women pick up their tools and assert themselves on the DIY front line.
I had imagined Home Jane CEO Jo Behari as a beefy woman squeezed into a pair of unflattering dungarees. Instead, I discovered a slim, intelligent and attractive woman in her late 20s.
“Were you expecting a flat cap and a 5 o clock shadow?” she grins. “This is the new millennium”.
And right there I knew she had it nailed. This was the new millennium and as far as Jo Behari was concerned, that meant casting off all preconceptions before we went any further.
Born into a family with two older brothers, life was a very male dominated environment and Jo found herself eager to emulate her brothers.
“Growing up was exciting. There was time for dolls and wearing pretty dresses but I always wanted to do what my brothers did so I was regularly skateboarding, climbing trees and playing with train sets. That foundation has given me a good mix for the person I am today. I’m equally at home unwinding in the spa with my girlfriends as I am watching the footy in the pub”.
But even with this disclosure, she admits that there was no hint in her early years of school and college that Jo was going to move into DIY as a career.
“I went to a school where there were lots of very clever people, students who would go on to become doctors, lawyers and politicians and I constantly felt out of my depth. I was convinced I would not achieve good enough grades so I progressed through the entire first phase of my academic life completely unsure of my future. I never felt encouraged by my teachers and believed I was just wasting my time.
“Eventually I came to realize that I wanted to run my own business. I had no idea of how or what but as my dad has always run his own businesses and he has been my biggest inspiration throughout my life, I decided I was keen to follow in his footsteps.”
After sixth form, Jo followed her friends on to University and despite what she classes as some “disappointing A Level results” she started studying Marketing & Psychology.
“I graduated (against all my earlier expectations) but struggled at first to get a job. Through sheer luck, I managed to land a position with one of the big marketing firms and totally convinced myself that I was going to end up working in New York or Singapore on some major commission”.
Within a few years Jo realized that she was totally unfulfilled in her job, which got her to thinking about what she really wanted to do with her life.
“It was about this time that I started looking more seriously into the idea of running my own business. I was living alone during this period and finding it difficult to get tradesmen in to do work for me. When I could get them to arrive, I was often left feeling vulnerable and intimidated by the experience, even though most of the time I knew how to do what they were doing. The only thing that held me back was not having the time”.
Jo noticed that there was a gap in the market and decided she would be the one to plug it! Home Jane was launched four and a half years ago and despite a rough ride through the worst of the recession; the company has emerged stronger and ready to tackle the challenges ahead.
“When you have negotiated one of the worst financial periods of recent times – I know we are still a way off being out of it yet but things are slowly improving – and you are still standing, you’ve got to believe you can move forward with confidence”.
How do other companies and men in particular respond to the fact that she still remains a minority in a very male dominated arena?
“I have never come up against any significant opposition from the opposite sex. In fact, on the whole all the tradesmen I’ve come into contact with have been very supportive. Ironically, the only hurdle we had to face was from an elderly woman who didn’t think women could do this type of work. I guess her opposition had more to do with her generation and a different way of thinking.
“One thing I am sure of is that if I can do it other women can too, if they want to. Gender roles are changing but there is still a way to go and just how far depends on the profession in question. We are more accepting of male nurses but female plumbers might take a little bit longer.
“The commercial sector remains slow on the uptake and it is still rare to have a woman on a major construction site, especially in a manual role. It’s funny because in less developed countries women are a much more regular feature on construction sites. In India for instance, women have a strong presence on building sites, although they wear Saris, which I’m not sure are compliant with Health and Safety!”
Now happily married, Jo pointed out that her husband was extremely supportive of her business.
“During the really tough times of the recession he helped me financially, which was a new experience for me. I was used to working for everything – I’ve had a job of some kind since I was 15 – but he was there to help me out and I will be eternally grateful for that assistance.”
Does that mean he is happy to let you do all the DIY in the house?
“I see being able to do my own DIY as a life skill, much like cooking or cleaning. If you live in a house it is important to understand how it works so I believe all homeowners, male and female, should make themselves familiar with their property.
“So in answer to your question, whilst he might let me take the lead on many things, he is far from a novice and that’s the way I like it.”
Home Jane has a total team of 60 tradeswomen although Jo is not averse to using men, especially since women in the industry are still a rare commodity.
And as for the future…
“Relying on one income source can be a dangerous thing so I have started to open my mind to other opportunities. I was approached by a publisher last year to write a DIY book aimed at women, which is due to hit the shelves this June.
“I have also just completed a TV show to air on Channel 4 in the spring called Make, Do and Mend, focusing on ways to save money by doing things yourself. I am one of three presenters and we each have our specialty. I’m also really looking forward to opening The Good Life Centre which will be our workshop venue and a really fun, friendly learning environment focusing on learning hands on skills. On top of all these things Home Jane is growing geographically, we now cover most of the Home Counties and are gradually working our way up the M1 corridor.”
So does Jo ever manage to relax?
“I think it’s important to have downtime and I like to relax in the evening with friends or at home in front of the TV with my husband. I’ve also just started Bikram Yoga. I really enjoy going to the cinema and this year I have decided that I’m going to take dance classes.”
Don’t be surprised to see her one day on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’!
We are also very pleased to announce that Jo will be the face of Women Talking’s Home Design from this month so be sure to check out all her useful hints, tips and advice right here with us!
George R Vaughan