Women in Construction – Are we winning?

Matthew Griffiths

May 13th, 2022
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There’s no hiding the fact that traditionally, construction has been seen as a man’s job, for right or wrong. But, especially before the current availability of machinery and lifting equipment became widely available, there was a need for physicality. Strength to lift, height to reach and hold.

Nowadays, this should be much less of a barrier now as society is considered more gender blind and neutral. As a result, previously regarded as inaccessible career paths limited to a particular gender have been opened up.

Moreover, the percentage of roles that are now physically demanding within construction is fewer than ever. Thanks to advanced technologies, safety requirements, and legislation, men and women have a broader range of job options.

You have architecture, engineering, landscaping, fire, acoustic, interior design, and plenty more within the design sector alone.

Commercially, there are roles such as business development, buyers, quantity surveyors, commercial managers and directors.

Site visits from building control, building warranty, health and safety advisers, highways, drainage, etc.

On-site, there are roles in mechanical and electrical, painting and decorating, crane or forklift driver, banksman (banks person), cleaner, Assistant Site Manager, Site Manager, Project Manager / Director, sales.

There are enough gender-neutral roles within construction that wait for the right person for the job, not the right man or the right woman.

But what do the stats tell us?

Women in Construction Stats

The United Kingdom’s workforce is evenly split between men and women, approximately 50% apiece. Therefore, you’d expect, or hope, that the construction industry reflects this. Erm, no.

It is widely reported that women make up just 14% of those within the construction industry, most of whom come through a higher education route. That means that trade roles filled by women is a rather anaemic 1-2%.

However, the number of women in construction is moving in the right direction, if slightly too slowly, with numbers increasing by 20% in the last two decades.

With the previously perceived glass ceiling being handsomely smashed, the Government Equality Office reports that more women than ever before are now sitting on FTSE boards, 34.7% to be exact. So, how is the construction industry lagging so far behind?

Are there barriers to entry into the construction industry for women?

We would all hope that the definite answer to this is a firm NO. However, if that were the case, then our measly 14:86 mix of female to male would be more even.

The industry continues to be perceived as male-dominated. Therefore, it can be a daunting career to consider for any female, as can the belief that stereotyping gender is still very much rears its ugly head.

Some statistics claim that women are paid on average around 12% less than their male colleagues, even when doing the same job.

There are claims and reports of female workers facing unacceptable treatment within the industry, including bullying and sexism.

How can we attract more women to the construction industry?

As we’ve seen, women appear to be drawn more to educated roles, much more than trade and manual labour roles, arriving through a higher education route. So, efforts can be focused there, and they are being.

Are a variety of schemes have been launched by the government, educational organisations and construction firms, local authorities etc., such as:

  • HS2 in the West Midlands – as the region prepares for the works to commence on HS2, developed in partnership between Women into Construction, HS2 Ltd, South and City College, West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham City Council, women are being encouraged to take part in a construction skills training programme. It consists of a two–week employability course, which includes the chance to take the CSCS test. This is followed by a four-week work experience placement within HS2 Ltd or one of the companies supplying HS2.

The placements available will range from ecology, design and archaeology.

  • Persmission – the national housebuilder has a target to appoint 50 females into trainee construction roles this year.
  • Recognition and Awards – Construction News and New Civil Engineering have launched a female-focused awards scheme to recognise women in construction, with categories including; Rising Star, Technical Excellence, Contribution to a Project, Inspirational Leadership, and Contribution to Gender Diversity.

The awards will also recognise organisations that are leading the way in gender equality.

What can be done on the ground?

Women have reported that they face a male-focused infrastructure once they have joined the industry.

With a more inclusive approach, it could help reduce this perception by implementing items such as:

  • Female (or more) toilets with sanitary provisions
  • Secure changing facilities
  • Limiting exposure to chemicals that have harmful effects on women in their reproductive age
  • Range of tools to suit body sizes
  • Set up support groups and social and professional female networks
  • Mentorship

Summary

It’s clear to see that, firstly, there are not enough women represented in the construction industry’s workforce, especially when looking at the number of women working on-site in trade and manual labour roles. But the numbers are slowly moving in the right direction, with schemes being implemented to attract more women through the site and office gates.

There needs to be a sea change in the perceived or actual experience that women have within the industry. Education and taking hard lines against those who refuse to move with the times can help achieve this, providing an enjoyable and inclusive workplace for all humans equally.

Photo by Joe Holland on Unsplash

About Matthew Griffiths

Matthew takes great pleasure in combining his two professions. One has seen him give two decades of service to the construction industry, from roles as an Estimator through to sitting on Boards. The second is his passion for the written word. He now has the best of both worlds, building homes and constructing written content.

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