Construction and engineering are traditionally male-dominated industries, but with the current skills shortage, will women’s under-representation be detrimental to the long-term health of the industry? We take a look at why it’s time for a very different way of thinking and considers how the industry can become more inclusive and diverse.
While gender diversity in the construction industry has seen something of a small improvement since the 1980s, the number of women in the vastly male-dominated sector is still nothing to shout about. Such is this gross misrepresentation of women, figures show that they account for just 11% of the construction workforce.
Making that change
With the current skills shortage in the industry and the fact one in five workers are almost at retirement age, something has to be done about poor take-up and retention rates. After all, the construction and engineering industries play a crucial role in our country’s prosperity.
The industry is in desperate need of women at senior levels, or within the project development team, if it is to ever benefit from a more balanced culture. But why do so many women overlook the construction industry and not even consider it as able to provide a rewarding career path for them?
Government and industry-backed initiatives, like #NotJustForBoys, which encourages more women to enter traditionally male sectors, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ drive to get more women into construction roles, are making inroads to rectify the situation. Meanwhile, Engineering UK report that the engineering sector saw a 25.7% increase of women in the profession between 2016 and 2021, which suggests that the introduction of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) into school and college education is starting to take effect.
Changing perceptions through education
While it could be argued that the overarching problem is that women simply don’t want to work in construction, let’s counter that with the notion that for generations, the correct education and training sessions simply haven’t been in place in schools or further education. The answer to improving gender diversity in the industry lies in creating appeal around its career opportunities, and changing perceptions that are entrenched in the past.
There is an overwhelming need for professionals to work with schools and career advisors to highlight the opportunities across a contemporary construction sector and really demonstrate how diverse the industry should be and inclusive of gender, age, race and background.
The education system needs to teach boys that women can provide just as much insight and thought to a project as men, and further the approach towards problem solving and communication skills. By the same token, teaching should also dispel myths and stereotypes for girls, opening them up to the prospect of a career in construction or engineering. And colleges specifically as part of their apprenticeship drives should actively promote these opportunities, along with the companies they’re working alongside, to women. Each gender brings totally different skillsets to the industry, and schools should be considering – and presenting to all students – the fact that the industry is a viable solution for prospects and careers.
Small steps and giants leaps for the industry
If the industry is to balance its requirements then it does need to anticipate and provide for women who would like to have families. Recent events have brought the need for flexible working and a better offer around childcare to the forefront and it is hoped that this will help to address the balance and create opportunities for everyone to consider a career in construction, regardless of their family situation.
If these predominantly male industries are to thrive in years to come, it is imperative that they embrace a balanced and diverse culture. The genders bring very different qualities and traits to every project which, combined, make for far better end results and productivity. The bottom line in this discussion, however, is simply that whether an employee is male or female, everybody has the right to feel respected and dignified at work and we look forward to a time when ‘women in construction’ is no longer a topic for discussion – simply because it’s the norm.
Key points to consider:
- Recruitment is of course an issue, but it’s equally as important to be proactive in retaining existing talent. Lack of opportunities and promotion prospects are some of the reasons behind women leaving the industry, and there’s the need for better incentives and benefits – buying and selling annual leave, for example
- How can we encourage more women into construction and engineering to place them in the position of role models to inspire the next generation? Female role models are sorely lacking, and it’s important that the industry sends out a loud and clear message – that women can be and are holding successful careers in construction. Should the industry consider coaching/mentoring for emerging talent?
- The industry should be creating more awareness around the annual Women in Construction Awards, and other similar ceremonies, that celebrate the most exemplary women in construction and engineering