Why are women still under 11% of the whole construction industry employees? Why don't they want to join the workforce? What holds them back, and what can we do about it?
The construction sector is one of the largest in the world economy, with about $10 trillion spent on construction-related goods and services every year. It is without a doubt, one of the most important industries globally. Yet the sector’s annual productivity growth has only increased 1% over the past 20years … With every coming year, it faces challenges like labor shortage, worker’s skills crisis, rate of retirement to start off with. The increasing shortage of construction workers motivated the industry to turn their attention to women and target them for recruitment. Yet still, women don’t seem to view construction as a career path worth considering. Especially when it comes for the trades and onsite, where workers are needed the most.
Currently there are over 11 million women employed in the UK, accounting for almost 50% of the workforce. But when we look at the percentage of women in the construction industry, the number stays somewhere between 9% and 10% since 1996. The number itself is low enough, but to make it even worse - it includes not only the jobs on site but also design or administrative positions. So, while the construction industry might be desperately crying out for a new workforce and skilled employees , the diversity aspect within it doesn’t encourage women to join it, and the role of women in the construction industry has a hard time changing throughout the years. Let’s take a look a t some of the barriers:
The number of women studying at Universities has been continuously increasing over past years. Women account for over 50% of students. However, they still constitute a minor percent of construction students.
There is much evidence indicating that the male-dominated nature of the construction industry plays a significant role and stays as a barrier to female recruitment, career progression or retention. When thinking of on-site positions (traditionally seen as ‘’male’’) women oftentimes will face ostracism - seen as weaker or less skilled cause of their sex. On the other hand, when wanting to enter management roles, females will face exclusion driven by either plain sexism or the belief that women won’t fit in a management role.
History made it’s point. Male-dominated industry (for years) developed its own culture inside the sector. It is especially seen on the construction sites (but the administrative part of the sector is not free of it either). Women have to '’fit in” in order to be accepted by the group. The less female they are, the easier it is for them to have higher respect in the eyes of the group. They face a hard choice - pretend to forget their gender (God forbid they’re feminine and attractive) or be judged by it and not their skills or experience.
To break the circle, women will need support from inside the industry. The more examples we can provide for outside eyes - the more probable it is, that new generation will be attracted to the construction sector. Advertising is powerful and thankfully companies start to understand it more and more. It needs to be targeted properly (not only to men as it used to be) and interest women to join in. Thankfully we have more and more extraordinary women in the industry, sharing their powerful message to attract others. Leading by example - is extremely important to encourage other women to join the construction and build their career within it.
Although attracting them is one thing. Keeping them (and allowing them to develop) is another. Companies need to pay more attention to career development, mentoring, training and upgrading employees skills (both men and women) not mentioning the equal pay issue. There are many opportunities for women in construction and right now, more than ever, the industry needs them as it faces shortage, skill crisis and global demand. A more diverse industry benefits everyone involved. However, opportunities have to be communicated better.
Equality is a cornerstone for every industry and workplace. Creating opportunities for women is as important as presenting them for men. Equal chances, equal pay. Although we need to remember to consider differences that come with gender - it may be that incentives important for one gender may not work for the other. There are some benefits though, that are general - like flexibility, work-life balance (especially important for new parents) and clear career path with promotion opportunities.
University offers depth of knowledge with transferable skills, while an apprenticeship provides real-life work experience. It’s a great way to give someone a taste of the industry and encourage them to pursue this career.
Facing the issues like discrimination and sexism at work is crucial to build a proper work environment (for everyone, not only women in construction). It’s incredibly important to notice and act everytime we see a mistreatment. In today’s world there should be zero tolerance for sexist behaviour. We need to build trust to gain loyal workers.
It’s not easy to work with the old ways and years of being male-dominated industry has left their marks in construction. However, it’s vital that we work on building trust and respect between workers, that will benefit companies and the sector overall. The more we work on employees, the more employees will develop and contribute to the growth of the industry.
There are a lot of organizations that provide mentorship, networking and opportunities for growth and business development to women in the construction industry. Success stories are also very important. Sharing your success with other women may inspire them and give them faith to follow their career and fulfill dreams.
NEW offers a two-month training program for women of NY, many of them unemployed or underemployed women of color
Massachusetts-based, not-for-profit organization NCTE is dedicated to helping women find careers in the union building trades
The industry needs to improve to be able to sustain the growing demand of population and to do that, it needs to modernize. There are some areas that could be improved to boost industry’s productivity like:
Utilize technology and innovations : digitalizing the industry is not an option anymore, it’s a must. New technologies are making their way into the industry, improving and reshaping the sector.
Improve project execution : using proper tools like next generation ERP software, makes it possible for the companies to track, control and manage everything that happens onsite and offsite.
Reskill workers : open training courses and mentoring programs can bring new workforce to the construction industry. It’s also important to execute initiatives for kids - to educate and interest younger generations to consider construction a valuable industry from a young age.
Attract women : Encouraging women to join and contribute to its growth is not an easy task, but it is worth every effort. Looking at labor shortage (that can get worse in the coming years as a result of BREXIT and its impact on the construction sector) and increasing worker’s skill crisis, we have to look for new ways to fight it. Turning our heads in the direction of the female workforce is not only an idea for the future. It is crucial right here, right now.
Let’s hope the construction industry realises that, and will act on it soon enough. In the meantime, we’re going to continue to “Encourage by Example” and support women in construction all over the world. We believe women can significantly affect the industry and support it in an infinite number of ways!
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