As a woman working in the construction industry, I am often asked what it is like to work in such a male-dominated profession. Whilst many perceptions simply stem from traditional beliefs and stereotypes, the reality is that it can sometimes feel like walking into the wrong changing room. Especially on the sites, where the vast majority of the workforce are men.
As an employee though, the key for me is the overall culture and attitude of the company in making gender a non-issue. This means embodying real values around equality and diversity, which ensure that it is ability and skills, not gender, that define who we are and how we are treated.
Generally, I think people probably still expect that because certain roles have been traditionally dominated by men, this is less appealing or even unsuitable for women, but actually I don’t think this could be further from the truth. The sheer number of different roles and wide range of skills required by construction firms, really does mean that there is something for everyone, irrespective of gender.
Although certain roles like site management are still largely male-dominated, other roles in the industry such as quantity surveying, are becoming much more gender balanced and it is clear both from statistics and personal experience, that the industry as a whole is attracting more women. This has been helped by a more concerted industry-wide effort to tackle ‘male builder’ stereotypes and to establish female role models to make the industry more appealing to women.
Undeniably though, the gender scales are still far from balanced in the construction industry as the data shows. Figures from 2016 reported that of 2.3m* people working in the industry, only 296,000 were women – less than 30% – whereas the average across all employment was much closer to a 50/50 split.
That being said, in 2017 a UK Economic Outlook report found that the number of women working in construction was increasing, with 37% of those entering the industry being females from higher education. So, the number of women in construction is clearly on the rise and it is like most sectors becoming more diversified, although perhaps at a slightly slower pace.
Overall, the key for the industry is to cultivate a gender balanced workplace and lay the groundwork for an inclusive and diverse workforce, so that we are opening ourselves up to 100% of the job market. This then enables businesses to attract the best candidates from a broad spectrum, which ultimately can only lead to a stronger workforce.
I am proud of the fact that I work for a company where over 30% of the staff across operational, commercial and compliance functions are women and this is 100% not lip service or quota driven, this is entirely about the best people for the job. Women in our business are genuinely treated as equals when it comes to career opportunities and progression, a fact I can personally extol from my eight years here.
With every challenge there is an opportunity, so this International Women’s Day, I would encourage all women to challenge the gender stereotypes and open themselves up to the myriad of exciting and rewarding career opportunities available to all in construction.
Kate Robinson, Bid Manager, Linear Projects
*The Office for National Statistics