The construction industry continues to be one of the most male-dominated sectors. Shocking statistics from the GMB union for construction workers reveal that women account for only 12.5% of the workforce, with just one in every eight construction workers being female. Without a concerted effort to attract more women to work in this sector, at the current rate the GMB predict it will take almost 200 years to achieve gender equality in the industry. So, how do we change the future DNA of construction to include more women?
In this article Framework Manager Faye Dolan, with support from the incredible women at Stepnell, Crossfields Group, Focus Consultants, Seddon and Tilbury Douglas, will explore the impact of women in the construction industry and how we can empower the next generation of young female talent to join the industry!
Katy Harris, Pre Construction Director, Seddon, Commented: “I have been around the construction industry all my life, and I love the opportunities it provides. There is so much diversity in the jobs from the very practical to the strategic and commercial roles and everything in between – no two days are the same and it certainly makes you think on your feet.
When I first started work it was a challenge to gain respect, the temptation was to adopt a more ‘masculine’ way of working. But it’s important to recognise that diversity is good, and balance gives an organisation strength. It takes courage to be different and I’d like to thank the women that came before me and paved the way. Construction is definitely not perfect yet, however whilst women are still a minority in our industry I have certainly seen progression in attitudes – which gives me hope for an even better future!”
Demolish Gender Stereotypes
As a society we are used to typical gender stereotypes from an early age. Boys are dressed in blue and play with diggers and building blocks; whilst girls wear pink and play with dolls and role-play kitchens. Children grow up understanding a world around them where men are perceived to have manual or managerial positions and women have clerical or domestic roles. But in 2021 we have a responsibility to take a wrecking ball to these old fashioned and antiquated ideologies. We need to empower girls to see a future where they can be a part of one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the UK. There is a lot of work to be done to change the mind-set that construction is a sector where only men can add value and women who want a career in the building profession are associated with derogative connotations of masculinity or are not taken seriously.
Gemma Meekings, Marketing Manager, Stepnell, Commented: “With over 12 years’ experience working in the construction industry from being based on site as document control to progressing to marketing manager, I can say this incredibly exciting and fast-paced industry has so many opportunities for women to succeed, whether it’s in architecture, engineering, quantity surveying, customer care, site management, HR, marketing, accounts…..the list is endless! It’s a sector in which women are still under-represented but I can say from my experience I have had the pleasure of working with and for some truly inspiring and totally brilliant women.
The thing I love the most about construction, whether it’s building, refurbishing or maintaining new hospitals or schools for our children, I have a real sense of supporting the community by creating places where people want to live and work. I’d highly recommend to any and all women to consider a career in this thriving industry.”
Why We Need More Women To Choose Construction
100 years have passed since women fought and won the right to vote. This uprising was born out of a demand for respect and equality as women shed their homemaker labels to take on “men’s work” during the First Word War. With the men away fighting, women took on crucial roles within their communities to keep the country going. Now, with an ageing population and fewer young people opting for a career in construction, we need the skills and expertise women can offer to tackle the skills shortage in this sector and ensure we have enough trained and qualified people to keep up with the rapid growth of construction projects. According to The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) UK construction has suffered skills shortages for many years and currently the industry will need to find 160,000 new recruits by 2023 to keep up with demand. So, how do we bridge the gender gap and encourage more women to pursue an occupation in construction?
Lucy O’Connor, Director at Crossfield Group, Commented: “Construction was never an industry that I thought about in my younger years, but fifteen years after securing my first graduate role with a large contractor, I’m still here!
I think young people don’t realise the many opportunities in the sector. I spend a lot of time engaging with the next generation and their eyes are opened when we talk about the broad range of careers on offer. Young females get a pleasant surprise when I talk about my own career journey and how I have forged my path in a male dominant industry, to now becoming director of one of the regions fastest growing construction companies. I think there is still an image issue, and it’s our role, as female ambassadors to ensure young people, and their teachers, are educated on the endless opportunities available”.
Build on Gender Equality & Diversity
One big challenge that women face is the gender pay gap. In the UK over £2 million people are employed in construction, and despite the Equality Act 2010, The Office for National Statistics reported in 2019 that women are paid on average 8.9% less than their male counterparts in the same role. Construction companies need to address this issue and ensure they close the gender pay gap to make a career in construction more appealing to women.
Another obstacle is the disproportionately high levels of discrimination that women encounter. According to a survey carried out last year by UK construction recruiter Randstad, 41% of women said they had been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments or behaviour from a male colleague. Alarmingly, this is 13% higher than when similar research was carried out two years prior.
Construction companies must stamp out gender inequality and discrimination in the sector to pave a way for more women to join. There are other areas that can be improved that would see huge benefits for women, such as more flexible working practices. Construction companies are often guilty of overlooking more flexible working arrangements and maintaining the status quo of a traditional full-time hours-based model of working. Adopting an agile working pattern, such as part-time or job-share positions can enable more women to achieve the work-life balance needed to accommodate work and home commitments. Cleaner working spaces and toilet facilities on site for both men and women are also considerations to improve working environments and appeal to more women.
Emme Creamer, Assistant Site Manager, Stepnell, Commented: I have been with Stepnell for 4 years, I am currently on an apprenticeship (Building Services Engineering (M&E) Technician) so of course have a special interest in mechanical and electrical installations!
I changed roles from a Quantity Surveyor, to an Assistant Site Manager, because I wanted to be at the “action-end” of the project. No two days are the same, and every day is an opportunity to learn new skills or gain new knowledge. I feel that women in construction have a lot of qualities that can enhance the industry, and we also add diversity, which is essential for innovation within the sector, and for challenging and improving current practices. I would wholeheartedly encourage any female to join construction, as there is no other industry like it. The construction industry is at the forefront of the economy, and there is such a huge variety of roles, companies and types of project. It is an opportunity to make a difference and to help shape the future; economically, socially and environmentally. There really is something for everyone, and I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.”
Routes into Construction
There are so many interesting and varied roles within construction and the industry offers exciting opportunities for career progression. Being a part of a construction project is rewarding and there are options to specialise in an area that best suits your skills and enthusiasm.
Industry specialists, such as the CIOB, are in consultation with the Department for Education to offer technical courses for students aged 14-19 years old to help develop new qualifications that are recognised by construction employers and improve their employability. Inspiring the next generation to opt for an education that will qualify them to play a role in construction is very important, whether that is a professional qualification through a university degree or a college vocational course, or employment-based through an apprenticeship. More must be done to ensure girls want to enrol on these types of courses. In 2011 a business called Pinkspiration was founded with the purpose of offering construction training and skills for young people, specifically women and girls. Their achievements include up-skilling more than 8,500 young people, their construction sites now have a 50/50 gender split, and they launched a ‘Women into Construction, Industry and Business Programme’ which supports 300 women and girls into industry each year.
Emma Millward, Regional Marketing Manager, Tilbury Douglas, Commented: “I started my career in 2007 working as an Assistant Project Manager for Faithful & Gould whilst studying for my MSc degree. I am now the Regional Marketing Manager for Tilbury Douglas in the North West. Construction involves far more than just what you see on a building site. There is a huge range of career choices in the industry.
My career highlights include being involved in the recent rebranding of the business from Interserve and being part of the team that delivered the UK’s first NHS Proton Beam Therapy Centre. Working in construction makes you feel very proud, you are working on projects that you know will change people’s quality of life.
The industry has changed a lot for women and there are a lot more women on site now than there used to be. I believe this is due to the effort to create more awareness in schools. As the region’s social value ambassador, I also coordinate careers talks in schools and offer students a unique chance to see behind the scenes of construction our sites.”
Women And The Future Of Construction
There are so many benefits for companies to have a diverse workforce. Ensuring you have a team that is driven, experienced, organised, and skilled, improves efficiency and profitability, and women certainly have their part to play here. Although there is still a long way to go, increasing numbers of women are choosing construction as a career path. According to Go Construct, a specialist in UK careers in the construction and built environment sector, an encouraging 37% of new employees choosing construction post-university are women and approximately 14% of all construction industry professionals are now female. It is becoming increasingly more common to find women working in all fields of construction, from bricklaying and surveying to buying and bid writing. Here at Procure Partnerships Framework we are proud to be an equal opportunities employer (EOE), working with construction companies and public sector bodies to deliver frameworks for the procurement of professional services and contractor partners. We know first-hand the benefits of having women in a construction orientated career as most of our leadership team are female. The Women in Construction Summit hold an annual global event to inspire more women to join the industry and provide a platform of female role models that many young women can aspire to. Attracting more women into all areas of building and engineering will have a positive impact on the UK construction industry, making it stronger and more productive in the future.
Eleanor Clark, Partner, Focus Consultants, Commented: “I am so proud to be one of two female partners at Focus, a 2:3 ratio in our Management Team which, unfortunately, is still a rarity in construction. It’s a cliché, but we do bring a good balance and a different way of addressing opportunities and challenges which is a benefit to both our teams and our clients and collaborators.
I’ve always been interested in the built environment but the only option that was presented to me at school was as an architect or engineer, neither of which I felt suited my skillset. It wasn’t until a university career counsellor suggested converting to Quantity Surveying, from my first degree of Economics, that I understood what a surveyor was! Over the last 20 years, my eyes have been opened to the myriad of careers in construction, now we need to continue showing young women that trades, apprenticeships, and vocational degrees are for them by encouraging this in their secondary school work experience and through positive promotion and role models.”