When I decided to do a bit of research to write an article about women in construction, there was no shortage of information out there to help me on my way. Facts, figures and big industry names all making noise about gender equality in the industry. So why then is there still such a gender imbalance in construction?
Well, if I knew the answer to that, I probably wouldn’t be a recruiter and I probably wouldn’t be writing this, but here I am and this is what I can find out about what the UK construction sector is doing and what it is not doing to improve the gender balance in its industry.
Women make up just over 51% of the UK population. Yes, fellas, we are indeed outnumbered! But when it comes to construction the roles are completely reversed. There are just short of 2.2million people employed in the construction industry today and just 289,000 of those are women. Employment in construction was at its highest for women in the third quarter of 2017, with 321,000 women working in the sector so numbers are in fact falling. According to the trade union, GMB, it will take almost 200 years to achieve gender equality in the construction sector with a date of 2194 in mind. My article on whether this has been achieved will be written by later generations of Cornelius’s.
When you read the numbers, you might wonder why we are failing to attract women to the profession and if I am honest, there is no one reason. Although we are firmly entrenched in the 21st century, we still lean towards gender stereotypes. For the majority of us we still dress baby girls in pink dresses and baby boys in blue dungarees, buy our girls’ dolls and our boys’ trucks. We don’t mean to be gender-biased, that is just the way our minds work when it comes to distinguishing between the sexes.
Because I want to make this article as fair and unbiased as I can, I want to put this into another context. We are concerned that only 11% of people employed in construction are women, but similarly, only 6% of nurses are men. Is that because men are actively discouraged from the profession? No! It’s because we are still living in a very gender-specific world.
My point here is that the construction industry is not the reason why women do not make up a more equal representation of the workforce. We are. The way we see the differences between men and women means that we are the ones creating this gender imbalance rather than the industries themselves. We jokingly talk of ‘pink jobs’ and ‘blue jobs’ (bin night is my blue job) and women are still seen as the primary child caregivers. In 2020, there were still more fathers in full-time work than women (92.6% Vs 75%) and 3 in 10 working mothers have had to reduce their working hours due to childcare commitments compared to 1 in 20 working fathers.
Well actually, quite a lot. For a start, we have International Women in Engineering Day and we have the Women in Construction Summit. Despite making my thumbs bleed from copious amounts of googling, I couldn’t find Men in Construction Summit and International Men in Engineering Day. I then took a look at the boards of some of our bigger construction companies and was pleased to note that analysis of 399 corporate boards showed an overall percentage of 22% of women on the board. Go back to the 11% of women in construction and it is clear that companies are making changes in the C-Suite. I was happy to note that Renishaw Plc has a board made up of 70% women. We also see active campaigns encouraging women into the industry from some of the sector’s biggest players including Bechtel, Laing O’Rourke, Balfour Beatty, Willmott Dixon and Morgan Sindall.
Whilst these companies are actively promoting their desire to employ women into the construction industry and are supporting the education of women in both STEM and trade skills, we need to also be realistic about the industry. It is male-orientated. We know that often, facilities are not always comparable for women on sites and PPE that actually fits women is still very much in its infancy.
These are just a few of the hurdles that women have to face to join the construction industry. But no one is burying their head in the sand and pretending that these problems don’t exist. They are being faced head-on and challenged on a daily basis. Ultimately, women will decide on whether they want to be a nurse or a bricklayer and for men, vice versa. All construction needs to ensure is that when women make the decision to join them, they are treated fairly in all aspects of their job and by everyone they work with. Take it from someone who lives with a CEO; women don’t want special consideration, they just want to be treated the same as everyone else they work with.