"We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements".
These words are on the International Women's Day website, and really resonated with us. We often see articles about how few women there are in the construction industry, and how few girls engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). But we don't see enough actually celebrating the achievements that women have made in the industry and the progress which the industry itself has made.
Yes, there is still a way to go, but for a moment, let us pause, take stock, and appreciate where we have got to, before we leap once more into the fray.
More women in construction
These figures from Statistica on the number of people employed in the UK construction industry tell us that more women became part of the industry over the last few years:
- in Q1 2016 - 2,002,000 men were employed in the UK construction industry, and 270,000 women, whereas
- in Q2 2020 - the figures were 1,939,000 for men and 298,000 for women.
An increase of 28,000 women is good on the face of it, but even better when you look at the figures in terms of percentage increase, a 10.3% increase in the number of women working in the industry between 2016 and 2020. And while in 2016 women made up 11.9% of the workforce, four years later this had increased to 13.3%.
This is definitely something to celebrate.
Greater business case awareness
Beyond the legal requirement to promote equality in the workplace, it seems like businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the clear business case for doing more to address gender balance in the industry.
There are benefits to engaging more women – an open, diverse and inclusive environment results in increased productivity and improved staff retention. WISE says that their analysis has found that "there is a correlation between STEM companies having more women on their boards and their reaching the FTSE 100" and also set out the further benefits of gender balance in business in their publication Why Gender Diversity Makes Business Sense.
From a practical perspective encouraging more women into careers in construction will also go some way towards tackling the skills shortage which, as we all know, is a real challenge for the sector.
What the industry is already doing
Let's take a look at a few examples of the brilliant things already happening:
- Educating and inspiring – it's never too early to start inspiring future generations, and a key way to address the perception of the industry and to encourage more new talent into the construction sector is for people and businesses to engage with schools and colleges. Esh Construction's (award-winning) Building my Skills programme and their Get into STEM programmes are great examples of this. Educating pupils – and their parents and teachers – about what options are available and what a career in construction looks like, will promote the industry to girls who would not typically consider a career in construction. It also allows students to recognise and adapt their career paths to address shortages in a particular skill set and open the sector up to students from STEM subjects. Win win!
- Engaging with young adults – it doesn't stop with school pupils. Go Construct's website says "37% of new entrants into the industry that came from higher education are women", and their "Women in Construction" pages work to dispel some of the myths around the construction industry. For example, they ask "isn't construction just for boys?" and answer "no", and they also ask "isn't construction just old-fashioned?" and then point out that "thousands of exceptionally talented female construction workers would certainly disagree"). This page also includes helpful information on ways to get into the industry – whether you're a school leaver or already have a career – and provides information on apprenticeships, traineeships, work experience, and even further qualifications.
- Promoting role models – it's easier to imagine yourself in any industry when you can actually see people who you can relate to in that industry. Women seeing women in construction, and having visible role models, is important – including at a subconscious level. Balfour Beatty recognised this as part of their International Women's Day campaign last year, when it said that "a business which reflects the society it serves will be better placed to continue to deliver for its stakeholders". It showcased a number of the most influential women across their business sharing their experiences.
- Mentoring and men – as a woman it can sometimes feel intimidating to work in a male dominated sector. Having a mentoring scheme can help with this, but not just women mentoring women - men themselves can really make a difference here too. By being good role models, by being aware of how women in work may act differently to men and how we therefore need managers who have more than one management style (for different gendered staff but also for different workers generally too), by ensuring that women are no more interrupted in meetings than their male counterparts, by checking that PPE and facilities provided to women are appropriate, by just being more aware. Women supporting women is brilliant, but we need men to get behind this too.
Support for women in construction
Typing "support for women construction" to an internet search engine brought up a number of useful websites, like:
- Women Into Construction
- The National Association of Women in Construction
- Women in Construction UK Magazine.
The International Women's Day website says "collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world" – and these websites and others are doing just that - by increasing awareness of women in construction, supporting women in construction, and encouraging other women to join the industry.
The construction industry is changing, and the skills that the industry needs is also changing as use of technology develops (think of increased use of drones), building information modelling / BIM (think of computer skills), and modular construction (think of the design and installation challenges).
There are so many opportunities for women in the construction industry, and we, personally love working as part of that industry too.