Is the Construction Industry Still Too Male-Dominated?
It would be nice to say that we’ve made huge strides in bringing women into the construction industry, but that would be somewhat of an exaggeration. There’s been promising developments, certainly, and there are currently some great UK initiatives aiming to encourage more women into construction, but the truth of the matter is that women are still significantly under-represented in today’s construction industry. And that’s a problem… for all of us.
Only 20% of people working in construction in the UK are women. That’s one in five across all construction-related jobs in Great Britain, and far fewer again in leadership roles. Meanwhile, in the engineering workforce, the UK only has 8.7% female engineers. That’s less than Bulgaria, less than France, less than Spain and much less than Germany. In fact, it’s less female engineers than any other country in Europe, and as a percentage, this number hasn’t grown in a whole century.
Is it sexism holding women back? Well, yes, to an extent, almost certainly: women in construction can face resistance and sexist commentary on job sites, as well as the famed ‘glass ceiling’ blocking them from promotion to senior positions.
However, a huge driver in the under-representation of women (and one that is more easily addressed) is that most women don’t imagine themselves in the construction industry in the first place, so simply don’t apply for the jobs.
No matter how progressive a construction firm might be in hiring women, they can’t hire them if there are no, or few, female applicants. So it’s up to women to show up in numbers and really compete on the construction stage- a development that will probably be more effective in smashing sexist prejudice than any gender-discrimination training course ever could be.
As such, a crucial key is in changing women’s own perceptions about women in construction, as well as those negative perceptions of the wider industry. It’s really important for females, particularly girls of school-leaving age, to consider the wide range of jobs available in construction- from tradesperson to engineer, project manager, 3D designer or architect. There is an enormous range of exciting, challenging and lucrative jobs in construction, and women are well-poised to take advantage of them if they start considering construction as a viable career option.
This change of perception has already begun, with some highly successful female figures making an impact in the construction industry. These women then become role models for other young women to consider construction as a career, and also help counteract the wide perception that women aren’t ‘tough enough’ to work in construction.
Why’s it so important? Leaving aside the argument against sexism, there is a very practical need for more construction workers- and urgently. There is already a skills gap in the construction industry in Britain, and it is expected to get much worse as the industry booms and our population ages. This skills gap is making a lot of people very worried: from construction firms who are already having to turn down jobs due to a lack of skilled tradespeople, to governments who predict housing and construction shortages down the line.
As mentioned earlier, there have been some promising advances in trying to bridge the gender gap in construction. On the corporate side, certain companies have started recruiting high numbers of women: Crossrail is a shining example of this change, with 30% of their engineering team now made up of females. Other firms have begun a ‘Change the Skyline’ program to encourage more women into construction, and there are also numerous new mentoring and ‘women in construction’ networking groups taking shape. There are also wider education programs at school level, such as the UK government’s initiative to encourage more girls (and boys) into engineering, maths and science.
There needs to be a continued concerted effort to draw women into construction. When we consider that the skill shortage is only set to get worse over the coming decade, it doesn’t make sense for a thriving industry to only be taking advantage of half of the available population.