Getting women into the construction industry is a challenge, but one that must be addressed. OSC examines the factors that are holding female workers back
Current male-to-female statistics in the UK paint a concerning picture. According to IET a mere 9% of the engineering workforce is female, while union UCATT said the labour force for construction suggests barely any improvement on this figure, with only 11% represented by females. UCATT goes on to report that just 1% of workers on site are female. With this in mind, it’s become increasingly important to encourage women into the male-dominated construction and engineering industry to tap into new skill sets, opinions and experiences that women bring to the table.
So, what can be done to address this issue?
Various publications advise that both organisations and communities in the construction industry take numerous actions to ensure gender equality, but first we need to look at attitudes towards women in construction and assess the current consensus.
Are attitudes towards women in construction changing?
Some believe that attitudes towards females in the construction workforce have become more accepting; however, this hasn’t reflected in any statistics as of yet. Despite the huge diversity in careers and skills that women can bring to these jobs, Skanska FM managing director Katy Dowding states that “women are expected to behave like men”. Contrary to Katy’s statement, others feel that there are no issues regarding the acceptance of women in the industry and argue that the low representation results from the lack of interest women hold for the sector. What could be the cause of this apparent lack of diversity?
Construction education and career paths
Perhaps education is the issue? It’s reported that only 15.8% of undergraduates studying engineering and technology in UK are female. It is advised that family and career advisers adopt a more progressive stance by eliminating the view of the construction and engineering industry as being gender exclusive.
As mentioned, construction and engineering is one the most diverse industries in terms of career paths and skills sets required, covering everything from sales to project management to working on site. It is important for organisations to realise that women can bring these great skill sets to the industry.
Improving staff retention
Whilst the importance of encouraging women into this industry is starting be addressed, the challenges of female employee retention is still a main area of concern. Numerous publications state that women have experienced unequal treatment such as bullying, harassment and toilet sharing with men. On the other hand some of this can be solved by a combined effort of organisations and male colleagues to eliminate unequal treatments such as pay gap, segregation and lack of promotion prospects. Furthermore, organisations can provide a wide-range of learning opportunities and implement a strategy for personnel development to fulfill employee needs, therefore resulting in retention of all employees regardless of gender.
Transforming and adapting to public perception
Public perception of engineering seems to classify jobs in this industry as solely manual work instead of the multi-dimensional professions available in the industry. This inaccurate perception blinds the public to all the advancements that the engineering profession has achieved until today.
Should we be doing more to promote female role models in the industry?
Perhaps one of the key problems is that growing up women may only see men advancing in the construction industry. Bringing recognition to the achievements of females may inspire others to follow in their footsteps and produce role models to help encourage all other female employees within the organisation.
Having shone a light on the actions required to encourage gender equality, organisations and the public need to firstly understand the value of gender diversity and then build an environment that can cater to this value. Companies need to encourage career advancements, equal pay and opportunities, work experience and education and a fairer working environment to shake off the current stigma and change the perceptions in the industry.