Gender Diversity: It’s a woman thing…

For generations, issues around gender diversity and women in the workplace have been somewhat neglected. In certain industries – construction being one of them – it is the norm for companies to accept that men dominate their workforce. In fact, women currently make up just 11% of the construction workforce and just 1% of workers on site. The Office for National Statistics says that the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers, and glaziers is so low that it is unmeasurable. But evidence indicates that companies who are committed to gender diversity outperform others by 15% (McKinsey, Diversity Matters study 2015).   Now surely that is reason enough to start raising these issues in the boardroom?

So why is gender diversity still a challenge in the construction sector?

Over the past 10 years, the Trades Union Congress and the National Apprenticeship Service have reported a marked increase in the number of women taking up apprenticeships. however, women only made up 2% of all apprenticeships in construction in 2015.

There have been numerous surveys by trade unions, associations, and public bodies around gender diversity and the results are all similar. Significant numbers of women reported that they:

  • Are treated differently because of their gender
  • Experience a lack of promotion prospects, lower pay than their male colleagues, and feel isolated at work
  • Have difficulties in finding PPE to fit correctly
  • Have to share toilet facilities with men
  • Are afraid to complain about poor treatment by managers

Recent case studies in construction have shown that it is not just in the boardroom that attitudes need to change.  Colleges, as well as construction companies, need to support female students in apprenticeships and tackle the male-dominated, and potentially offensive, ‘banter’ culture.

Current research and lines of thought attribute the problems to a lack of engagement by male executives, corporate culture, and the lack of role models. Given the looming skills crisis within construction and the need to harness potential talent – what can be done to address these challenges?

How to address the key elements of corporate culture:

  1. Building more engagement and support 

Engagement and support is is critical to momentum. Building the awareness of male workers in particular is of great importance, since the less aware they are of the issue, the more they tend to believe that gender diversity measures are unfair. More awareness often brings greater support.

  1. Changing the perception of 24/7 on call for senior management roles

Both men and women recognise that a top career implies ‘anytime, anywhere’ availability. This is a model that may require sacrifice in personal and family life. Both men and women acknowledge that this may impact women more than men. While flexible arrangements are there to support women, at times it is seen as a barrier to career advancement. Working flexible hours or part time should not be a deterrent being seen suitable to apply for senior management positions.

  1. Implementing a comprehensive ecosystem that addresses the gap in cultures

There are several measures that can be implemented:

  • Strong CEO and top management commitment
  • Programmes to develop women as leaders
  • HR polices and KPIs to ensure women are included in recruitment and promotion pipelines
  1. Giving young women effective role models and career pathways

It is important that the different career pathways and the concept of ‘non-traditional’ roles are tackled. Improving gender equality is hard, but where there are opportunities to engage with young women and explain the career pathways available to them these should be supported throughout the organisation. There is still a stereotype that all workers within the construction industry have to be on site in muddy boots and hard hats – when in fact, there is a huge variety of roles for both men and women to equally excel at.

Next Steps?

There are good practice models and gender initiatives throughout the construction sector, for example STEM initiatives in schools and education and BuildForce redeploying members of the armed forces into construction roles.   If you would like support or guidance on any gender issues, contact us:

Phone: 01509 320 100