The gender pay gap has gained plenty of coverage recently, thanks to new rules requiring large businesses to report the difference in pay between male and female employees. While the results have certainly been eye-opening, there are other aspects of gender inequality in the world of work - such as the proportion of male to female workers in various industries.
While 51% of the adult population in the UK is female, only 42% of the workforce is female. Some industries, such as nursing and primary school teaching, are female-dominated (with roughly 90% and 85% women respectively).
Of course, the construction industry is male-dominated. An estimated 99% of site workers are men, and only 12.8% of all construction workers (including office-based workers) are female. In other words, the construction industry is barely accessing more than half of its potential workforce.
The benefits of diversity in the workplace are well-documented, but in construction there’s another compelling reason to encourage more women into work: skills shortages. Nearly a quarter of the construction workforce is over 50, and experts suggest that the industry will need an extra 150,000 workers by 2021.
However, a report from the CITB found that construction only scored 4.2 out of 10 in terms of its overall appeal as a career amongst teenagers. Another survey found that two-thirds of people would never consider a career in construction, and only 13% of women would consider making a construction career choice.
With an ageing workforce, it’s vital that the construction industry widens the pool of labour it has to draw from. Women can play a critical role in easing skills shortages and providing valuable skills and expertise to the industry in the future.
Construction has an image problem. It’s seen as dirty, unsafe and old fashioned, with an unreliable workload and few long term career prospects. Young people associate construction work with on-site manual labour in a male-dominated environment.
In reality, female construction workers report that overt sexism might have decreased, but there are plenty of instances where women are treated differently because of their gender - with male colleagues apologising for their language or dumbing down technical explanations for female workers.
Of course, not all construction sites fit this stereotype - and not all construction jobs involve manual labour or working on-site. Informing young women about these roles could be critical to capturing their interest in construction. Additionally, communicating the creativity involved in many construction trades like carpentry and stonemasonry could also encourage more women to participate.
Finally, the industry has been slower to adopt technology than other fields - but with the increasing integration of BIM and other software, not to mention exciting developments in hardware and machinery, women looking to work in tech and IT could also find a home in construction.
Challenging stereotypes and changing societal perceptions is very difficult - there’s no doubt about that. Earlier this year, a roundtable of women in construction determined an action plan to increase the number of women in construction. Their proposed measures included:
- Creating a network of volunteers to visit schools and inform girls about the construction industry
- Incentivise women in construction to act as mentors
- Write to MPs about statutory maternity and paternity pay within the industry
- Lobby politicians on how to bridge the skills gap and deliver infrastructure ambitions
Slowly but surely, by increasing the visibility of women in construction we can break down the harmful and inaccurate stereotypes and encourage more women to enter the industry - and succeed at every level.