Diversity in construction is a difficult topic to handle – it’s one that’s been around for a long time, and is embedded within an industry traditionally viewed as being ‘masculine’. But with a widening skills gap threatening the industry’s stability, and women more than deserving of equal footing with their male colleagues, it’s become crucial to tackle gender inequality head on.
Did you know that women make up just 12.8% of the construction industry’s workforce? That’s a 2016 estimate from the Office for National Statistics, encompassing all roles from the boardroom to the site – and it’s an estimate that was difficult to reach due to a lack of substantial data.
That’s right: there are so few women in construction, that the ONS struggle to even guess how many there are. Clearly, in the 21st century, this is a huge social issue – but it’s also damaging to the industry as a whole. It’s no secret that UK construction is facing a skills crisis as it is, and without tapping into the available female talent that crisis will only worsen.
So, how can we redress the gender balance and bring the construction industry into the 21st century, ready to thrive?
Providing Young People with Options
Education has played an invaluable role in tackling the growing skills gap within the industry thus far, with schools, colleges and apprenticeship schemes being braced to entice a new generation into construction careers. Not only are these critical life stages ideal for creating general interest amongst young people, but they could also hold the key to redressing a better gender balance at all levels of construction.
Research carried out in Spring 2017 by Redrow found that whilst only half of young people surveyed had received advice around careers in construction, just 29% of girls had been provided such insights (compared to 40% of boys). Without providing clear and fair options to all young people, the industry must compete with an image problem that starts in schools, and continues throughout individuals’ careers.
In reality, construction roles don’t start and end at the building site: there are a much wider range of jobs available, including working on complementary areas such as technology and bespoke software development. It’s not, as tradition would have people believe, all focused on laying bricks, and construction firms need to lean on educators – as well as creating their own fanfare – to promote other branches of construction, such as surveying, management, and engineering.
Agreeing with the approach that education will play a key role in bolstering gender diversity is Jo Jones, associate director at Birmingham’s Building Services Design. Commenting on the ONS’ troubling figures, Jones acknowledged that “women are starting to recognise that there is a career for them in engineering and construction”, but “we need to start promoting the jobs available to women while they are still in school” if the process is to be sped up.
Promoting Women Within the Industry
“When I first joined the construction industry 20 years ago, I was told by an older worker that I shouldn’t be allowed on site – because I was a woman.”
Maria Pilford, CITB Via CITB
The construction industry can’t, however, place all of the onus on educators if they want to showcase the career opportunities on offer. As CITB board member Maria Pilford has pointed out in her own recommendations, the industry needs to do more to promote female role models for young people to look up to.
That’s not to say, however, that efforts aren’t already underway to make this happen. The Women in Construction Awards, for example, held its eleventh annual ceremony in Manchester earlier this year, and provided the ideal platform to exhibit women’s achievements within the industry. Elsewhere, Northern Ireland’s Margaret Conway became the first woman to win the UK Construction Manager of the Year award in the event’s 40 year history.
In short, steps are already being taken to celebrate women, but it’s what happens when these events are over which must be fine-tuned. Working with educators and by themselves within the industry, firms must promote female achievements and the individuals they’re attached to in order to inspire a new generation of women into construction – and keep doing so until it becomes clear that there are fantastic women doing fantastic things at all levels.
Why Does It Matter?
Although strides are already being made and attitudes are changing, a common question remains, looming over the construction sector: ‘why does it matter?’
Aside from the aforementioned skills gap – which grows wider every year and demands the attention of skilled individuals from all genders – there’s also the social implications of sexism, discrimination and gender equality. In joining the workforce, Millennials have brought with them a genuine passion for equality and diversity, and it’s a passion which has effected change in a number of industries.
If construction is to keep up with changing times and become attractive to Millennial workers, then firms must do more than adopt new tech or try bespoke software – they must welcome women into the industry with open arms, and support them in building careers. To do this effectively, they need to show young people that outdated stereotypes about construction and builders are unfounded, and that there’s a role for everybody to play, no matter their strengths or their gender. Through shouting about careers and role models, that’s a far from impossible dream – but nevertheless, it won’t be easy to change, and a long road remains ahead.
Kaleida offer bespoke software development to clients in the construction industry and beyond. To find out about our work with construction firms, head on over to our case studies page, or feel free to get in touch directly.