Women in Construction
Let's stop talking and start recruiting!
Forget about any preconceived ideas you might have about gender – the fact is – we need more women to work in the construction industry. We have massive skills shortages which are getting worse as more people leave the industry without being replaced and so far, all attempts at finding replacements are not working.
It’s staggering to think that while women make up 47% of the workforce, that figure is just 13% for the construction industry according to industry estimates – and most of those jobs are in offices.
We at Global more accurately represent the national workforce with 52% of our team being female, but when you look at traditional building sites then it appears that 99% of front-line workers are men – a staggering statistic in these so-called days of gender equality.
We have to accept that working on building sites can be tough and it is not always the most glamorous of jobs, but there is a growing bank of evidence to suggest that when women are involved, health and safety issues improve and so does the quality of work.
More than 50% of construction companies are reporting skills shortages and claim that they are unable to fill vacancies so why ignore this massive pool of talent just waiting to be trained up. We in the UK are going to need some 400,000 new people every year for at least the next five years if we are to prosper as an industry.
The situation is very much the same worldwide. In America it has been estimated that some 2.5 million skilled workers were lost forever from the construction business following the financial collapse in 2008 – and even after all of this time – have yet to be replaced.
However, it was encouraging to see that in 2015 women filled nearly 6.3% of apprentice positions in the state of Massachusetts — up from 4.2% in 2012. Women also accounted for 5% of construction work hours in Boston in 2015. This seems to be typical of what is happening across all of America and we are seeing similar stories in Australia and New Zealand and now of course the UK. These figures are being maintained and are increasing in 2021.
Many traditionalists might not welcome the trend mainly because they still wrongly believe that women are not physically as strong or might not be suited to the rigours of a modern building site. This is patent nonsense with several studies showing that women in construction provide a wider pool of opinions and experiences and problem solving. There is also clear evidence that women offer improved decision making, calmer heads and better communication and are less inclined to take dangerous risks – vital with increasing health and safety legislation on construction sites.
It does seem incredible that we are still having this debate in 2021 but hopefully – not for much longer, even though we still have to overcome many barriers which include unconscious gender bias, poor training and outdated perceptions of women working in construction. In spite of this we are seeing more and more industry reports of construction companies promoting women to more senior positions – an encouraging trend.
It is estimated that around two to three million people are employed in the construction sector in the UK and this figure is still continuing to grow, so there is no lack of opportunity. Construction software, architecture and surveying are just three examples which offer considerable opportunities for technology-based applications, which women can handle as well as, if not better than men. Such applications represent the future and we ignore the contribution that women can offer at our peril.
This brings me nicely around to how we send out our marketing and advertising messages. As an industry, we need to break the stigma that construction is just for men. Women are allowed to apply for courses or jobs in construction, but there is an underlying perception to target men only.
Unless we are prepared to change this perception then there is a chance that these traditional views and gender stereotypes are going to hold back the industry and will do little to offset the current skills shortage.
Longer term we also need to let girls of school age know that they could have an incredible career in construction. At the moment it can be argued that there is not much encouragement from a young age for girls to enter the construction world – but this is slowly changing.
Fortunately, we are now seeing evidence that some colleges, apprenticeship providers and even construction companies are taking to the schools to encourage more people in the industry, both girls and boys.
They are doing this by showing students what is it is like to work in the construction industry and what options are available to them. Involving students at a young age can positively shape the future of the construction industry.
There are other encouraging trends which show that women are embracing the construction challenge and making a significant difference. We have seen the fairly recent formation of Women in Roofing, “an organisation founded to collaborate with all aspects of the roofing industry to achieve diversity and longevity.” With the help of this group, the industry is listening and women are playing a more important role in every area of the supply chain.
We have also seen conferences in recent years such Inspire Women in UK Construction, Property and Engineering summits which shows that women are determined to claim their rightful place in our industry.
It’s a step in the right direction – and long overdue.