Ally Robin, director of Star Recruitment on addressing the construction industry gender gap
With the employment rate for women now at its highest on record at 72 per cent, there is no better time to promote greater female participation in the construction sector. The latest ONS Labour Force Survey reveals that of a workforce of around 2.3 million construction industry workers in the UK, only 13 per cent (304,000) are female.
In my day-to-day dealings with the construction industry, the gender split feels much greater than the ONS figures depict. We rarely see female staff on the trades and labour side, having employed a mere six women on assignments in almost six years of business. What’s astonishing is that this figure represents six individuals in a pool of thousands of candidates we have placed in the sector over several years. On a positive note, improvement is happening but not fast enough. We are starting to see an increase in the number of female candidates applying for and being placed in management and professional construction roles. However, we’re experiencing more growth south of the border than we are in Scotland where most of our business is focused – here there still remains a huge gender gap.
We need more women in the construction market not only to help address the shortfall and fill the widening skills gap, but to also provide more balance and variety in an industry dominated by men. Having too much of one thing is never good, and the industry can evolve by bringing in more female workers across a range of roles and levels. Introducing more women into the sector will improve diversity by introducing new approaches to work, offering fresh opinions and viewpoints on issues, and helping to dissolve prejudices. It will also create an atmosphere in which the best-suited people, male or female, will be able to progress and drive improvement.
Change the image
The construction industry has an image problem. In order to make the sector more appealing to women we need to shatter stereotypes, clean up our reputation, and showcase the roles where women can truly add value. We can do this by breaking down barriers and creating viable routes into construction for women. We must promote a wider range of roles to women beyond simply administrative or office-based roles like HR or accounting work. We must also dispel the myth that working in construction is too strenuous for females.
To make the various roles more appealing, construction firms should consider introducing events aimed at female candidates, for example open days geared to recruitment of women that portray working in construction as a lucrative and lasting career option.
Embracing apprenticeship programmes that cater to females is another great way to bring in women who have no prior industry experience – they also offer a supportive entry into the sector from a young age when people are starting to think about their career prospects.
We need to celebrate the women already working in the industry and use these examples to attract more females, for example Women in Construction Days/Weeks that celebrate and promote women in the industry who are doing well and who can act as real-life case studies that make careers in construction more attractive and realistic.
Not all of the obligation lies in the hands of employers. Responsibility also lies with others who can influence the industry, such as recruiters. The recruitment industry should harness our strong relationships with construction companies and utilise our understanding of the market to encourage more women into a variety of positions. We need to work in partnership with client companies to shatter stereotypes and help shift attitudes towards women in industry and change the mindset of those stuck in the past.
For those not interested in the more visibly obvious construction industry jobs, it’s important to promote the wide variety of roles that women can excel in and showcase where career progression is possible. We also need to show where there are opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurism, as this will make working in construction more appealing.
As in any sector, employers should ensure they are paying fairly and paying above the minimum wage where they can to not only attract more women but to appeal to any candidate regardless of gender. Pay across the industry is going up, which is great, but we need to ensure that it is distributed fairly so there is no discrimination by gender whatsoever. Offering flexible working arrangements in certain roles is a great way to attract more women, particularly those that may have childcare or other care-related responsibilities, as this can be a big barrier to women working full-time, part-time or at all.
As construction industry recruiters and employers, we have a duty to address the widespread skills and gender crisis. There is an immediate housing crisis in the UK and the construction workforce plays a key role in resolving this. By encouraging more women into the sector, we will not only introduce new talent and fresh thinking, we will also build the next generation of industry leaders that will help the construction industry meet the challenges of the future.