Only about 13% of the entire construction industry is made up of women.
No, that’s not a statistic from the 1950s.
Surprisingly, that’s from 2020.
In total, there are between 2 and 3 million people in the UK employed in the construction industry and is still continuing to grow, being valued at its highest level on record at approximately £99,266 million in 2016.
This outdated view of the construction industry is pretty surprising, considering it is growing at a phenomenal rate. The industry is in high demand, both in the residential and commercial sector. Technology and construction software in the 21st century are transforming the industry, but are they being held back by the lack of female representation?
With the rise in the news and the action being taken to decrease the gender pay gap, it brings our attention to the lack of women in the construction industry.
In her recent interview, Carol Massay, CEO of EasyBuild Construction Software, shared her comments about women working in construction:
“…Construction is a difficult industry to work in, and I do believe you have to be thick skinned to stand up and be counted. Yes, there is the banter that takes place, but I have seen more women be disrespected in some of the top chain of hotels and restaurants around London.”
Equality movements, organisations, schools and construction companies are working hard to change the attitude towards the male-dominated workforce and trying to encourage more women into the industry.
It’s not all about wolf whistling men in high-vis jackets. There are a huge variety of opportunities in the industry, from construction software to design and architecture. You don’t have to get your hands dirty to be involved in the thriving industry.
So, why are there so few women in the industry and what can we do about this?
Stereotypes & Perception
The typical stereotype for a construction site is an ogling, baggy-trousered macho-man.
Men are bigger and stronger than women and are naturally drawn to physical work, right?
This doesn’t sound like an inspiring workplace for women. On building sites themselves, it is estimated that 99% of workers are men, so it’s no wonder we think the construction industry is not the right place for women.
This perception is very old-fashioned, and more and more organisations are working to eliminate the stereotypes and encourage women into the industry.
One way they are doing this is through advertising. As an industry, we need to break the stigma that ‘construction is for men’.
Recruitment & Advertising
Advertising has been highlighted as one of the problems for the lack of female representation in the construction industry.
It’s not that women are not allowed to apply for courses or jobs in construction. The problem lies in the current perception of the industry, as well as course providers and companies failing to attract women.
Despite improvements, sexist adverts are still, surprisingly, a problem in the 21st century.
Now, most construction company adverts are not necessarily degrading to women, but advertising for both courses and jobs are targeted at men. It’s not all about the pictures and videos that follow the adverts, it’s the language the advert is written in, too.
This can make the construction industry seem an intimidating environment for women, deterring them from choosing a career in construction, and for many, not even considering it as an option.
Advertising in both schools and companies should represent diversity in the industry to include gender, as well as age, disability, ethnicity, sex, etc.
Companies are positively trying to make the recruitment process and criteria more transparent and celebrating the successful female construction workers.
Without changing the way the construction industry is perceived, there is a chance that these traditional views and gender stereotypes are going to hold back the £99 million industry, especially while tackling the current skills shortage.
Opportunities in the construction industry should be made available to women, just as they are to men. It’s not all bricks and building sites, though. There are a lot of opportunities in the construction industry suited for all different types of skills and interests, as not everyone, men included, want to do physical work. These include; design, architecture, project management, technology and accounting software.
Carol Massay, CEO of EasyBuild, highlighted in a recent interview that she believes entering the Construction Industry as a female raises questions, but can be achieved with the right mindset and determination.
“I wouldn’t say it was difficult, as I am a strong believer if you enjoy what you do and are challenged by it, then nothing should really stand in your way. Yes, as a female, there would always be that question, ‘would I have had that response if I was a man?’ but it has never really bothered me as an individual.”
Encouragement from a young age
It can be argued that there is not much encouragement from a young age for girls to enter the construction world.
Just like advertising, some young women are put off by the stereotypes and the way the construction industry is perceived. Some women are even put off by the lack of acceptance and flexibility.
Women are looking into their futures and want to know they have a secure job, as some aspire to start a family or become a CEO and the construction industry fails to promote this.
Colleges, apprenticeship providers and even construction companies are taking to the schools to not only encourage more people in the industry, but to actively encourage girls and demonstrate it is not just for boys.
They are doing this by showing students what is it is like to work in the construction industry and what options are available to them. Involving students at a young age can positively shape the future of the construction industry.
It can be suggested that the construction industry is the most gender-segregated profession in the world. Awareness around gender discrimination in society is rising, and this raises concerns when compared to the current statistics in the construction industry.
For example, 99% of workers on a building site are male.
A study from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has shown that approximately a third of women have said that their fear of sexism has held them back.
This goes to show that the views of society are still very outdated and the construction industry still appears to intimidate women, making it difficult for them to succeed.
Most of us think of building sites as ogling men, wolf whistling and making inappropriate comments to women. But this isn’t always the case.
This gender inequality perception of the construction industry is outdated, and effectively impeding its growth. In the 21st century, it should be recognised that companies are trying to eliminate this and actively encourage any gender, or age.
But are targeted job adverts helping or hindering women’s motivation to work in the construction industry?
For those women who are currently working in construction, there are organisations to support and help them. Women Into Construction offers advice and guidance, while events like the Women In Construction Summit provide a chance for networking and career development.
Is the gender pay gap discouraging women to enter the construction industry?
In April 2018, companies with over 250 employees were instructed to submit their gender pay gaps to the Government Equalities Office. These statistics showed the world how companies were treating men in comparison to women, even down to the bonuses they are paid.
Prior to this publication, there has been a lot of speculation around the inequality in pay. And this publication proves damaging, especially to the construction industry with a whopping 62% difference in pay between men and women.
Publishing the gap in gender pay sounds like a step in the right direction, but has this been a factor in discouraging women to enter the construction industry? It is hard to say – there are a lot of other factors that potentially contributed to gender pay gap. Have the men been there longer? Are the men more skilled? Are women opting in to more company benefits than men (e.g. a higher pension percentage, purchasing extra holiday, healthcare benefits, etc.)
So we can’t jump to conclusions too quickly – but you can’t help raising concerns when looking at the overwhelming gap that is presented with this data, alongside the current problem with men dominating the industry. What is being done to close this gap? How do do people feel about this?
We do have to continue to look on the bright side. Publishing the gender pay gap issue is good for the future and reinforce the importance of equal pay.
Will closing the gender pay gap help encourage more women into the industry?
Skilled labour is getting harder to find. Skills within construction are lacking, not nearly as much as women in construction. But statistics for either just don’t seem to be growing, and this can have a major knock-on effect on the construction industry in the long run if this gap is not filled.
In April 2017, the government implemented an apprenticeship levy. This means that employers will receive an allowance of £15,000 towards an apprentice. This will certainly boost more employers to hire apprentices, encouraging young people and students into the industry. But it still does not address the lack of women in the industry and what can be done to encourage them.
Women working in construction can really help bridge the gap in the skills shortage, but what is being done about this?
Inspiring women into the industry can have the potential to account for a large proportion of the shortfall in the construction industry. The construction industry cannot afford to not be diverse in their workforce or it just may not survive.
Is the construction industry being held back by the lack of female representation?
How do I start working in construction?
If you’re female, entering the construction industry doesn’t have to be difficult. Entry-level jobs aren’t hard to come by and you shouldn’t feel like the manual labour jobs are only for men. If the role sounds like a good fit for you, apply.
Can a woman be a construction manager?
Absolutely. While the majority of top-level positions are currently held by men, this will begin to change as more women enter the industry.
In fact, the women who are in higher positions are changing the game already. In the US, Jessica Adame, National Outreach Manager at McCarthy, is altering the way people are recruited. “When people think of construction, they think of hands-on building, but there is also a lot of problem solving and relationship building involved. Women have the ability to approach problems with great communication and bring a bunch of ideas together,” she says.
Can a woman become a contractor?
Yes – more women are becoming contractors, but they are still few and far between. Don’t let this put you off training and applying for jobs, though. The only way to change this is to get more women into construction.