A woman’s place is on a building site, according to a growing number of female engineers, site managers, quantity surveyors and architects. Women have made substantial inroads into construction industry jobs over the past decade, but more needs to be done to make this male-dominated, testosterone-driven industry more inclusive and diverse.
Women climb to the top as crane operators and show their courage as steel repairers. But when it comes to trades like masonry and pipefitting, women make up only a tiny proportion of the workforce – less than 1%.
Former carpenter Kath Moore is chief executive of Women into Construction, a non-profit group that runs training programs with construction companies to help them hire more women.
“There are real opportunities for women to participate in and we have no trouble recruiting them,” she says. “Construction is a well-paid job and offers great opportunities for progression.”
Overall, women make up around 12.5% of the construction industry workforce in the UK, mostly in engineering, design and administrative jobs. The industry has launched a campaign to increase female participation, with some companies committing to a 50/50 gender ratio. Construction company Wates Group has announced that it is working with WiC to bring 125 women into the industry by 2025.
Women are turned off by the industry in part for fear of sexism on the job site – 72% of female construction workers polled in a survey said they had experienced some form of gender discrimination in 2019. There is also a perception that it is backbreaking, dusty and dirty work.
“Because there are so few women in the trades, there isn’t much of a role model for other women,” Moore notes.
“We are definitely seeing more women interested in engineering, quantity surveying and construction management roles. Some of the women we have on the site have said that having more women in these leadership positions makes the environment on the site much more pleasant and makes it easier for them to be accepted as women in the trades and allow them to continue their work. »
Other countries are making progress in recruiting women into construction. In the more heavily unionized United States, Australia and Scandinavian countries, women are more represented, Moore says. “We are lagging behind in this country,” she adds.
WiC works with construction companies to organize courses for steel repairers, who fix the steel structures for buildings, and another for formwork fabricators, who make the molds for concrete.
The industry still has few female leaders, although this is gradually changing. Earlier this year, homebuilder Taylor Wimpey promoted chief operating officer Jennie Daly to chief executive, alongside chairman Irene Dorner. Meanwhile, infrastructure services company Amey is led by CEO Amanda Fisher. But there are very few examples of female leaders among senior construction managers. To attract more women, it will be essential to have well-defined promotion paths and strong role models in leadership positions.
One of the advocates for women’s business roles is TikTok influencer Darcie Richards, a mason whose videos encourage women to get involved. It shows the fun side of working on a construction site – working outdoors, the sense of accomplishment in finishing a job, the fascination with the different techniques involved. This type of social media advocacy is important for attracting a more diverse workforce to the industry.
The skills shortage in construction is an important factor in increasing women’s participation. With fewer European workers following Brexit and the pandemic, and many construction and engineering workers reaching retirement age, the industry is facing a shortage of staff as many construction projects and major infrastructure projects are underway. But improving diversity also has wider positive effects, says a spokesperson for construction company BAM.
“The benefit of having more women is that it enriches the quality of decision-making on construction projects,” he says.
As a building management company, BAM supports its clients and companies in the construction of shops, hospitals, leisure centers and offices. “The public uses the facilities on a daily basis, so having a diverse workforce is important because you get a more holistic view of how the buildings are used and should be designed and constructed to satisfy the people who use them. use. That’s how you get decision-making wealth that’s not male-centric,” he says.
He adds that there is evidence in the industry that productivity increases when you have more women in the workforce.
Persuading more girls to consider a career in construction is a task for schools and parents. Lucy Ellis, a geotechnical engineer working on rail infrastructure at Laing O’Rourke, says she was encouraged by her father, an engineer himself and able to help her gain work experience.
His job for Laing O’Rourke involves solving jobsite problems, directing contractors and making sure the job is done safely.
Ellis thinks attitudes towards women in construction are lagging behind reality.
“The outside perception of the industry is changing at a much slower pace than the industry itself.
“We also welcome a wider community of minorities, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. We’re making this industry more accessible for people who didn’t think it was for them before,” says Ellis.
While there may still be sexist dinosaurs in the industry, she says in her experience, most of her male colleagues have been more than happy to help female workers. “Women don’t come into the industry and aren’t pushed away by men. For most of my career, the men I’ve worked with have lifted me up and helped me get to the position I’m in today, and they really encourage future generations, whether whether it’s their daughters or helping with recruiting events.
To attract more women, construction must also engender a new breed of men: those who are committed to making the goal of diversity a reality.