Construction has traditionally been thought of as male-dominated and if you were asked to name a female role model in the sector you’d probably be hard pressed to think of anyone. That appears to be changing thanks to concerted efforts to encourage women into the sector and today more women than ever are taking up what were once considered 'male' positions and smashing outdated stereotypes.
By 2020 more than a quarter (26%) of positions in the industry are expected to be filled by women. Of the positions currently filled by women in construction, just 3% are in what has been traditionally viewed as female roles such as secretarial or support. Far more are now joining in positions such as surveyors and construction managers, which is hugely encouraging and demonstrates the progression being made. However, although there has been an increase in the number of women in senior positions from 6% in 2005 to 16% in 2015 there is still some way to go before the playing field is truly level.
Lack of women role models.
The glass ceiling may have a few cracks now but it still exists in the construction industry and the number of women at senior level remains low. According to a Randstad survey of over 450 employers in the construction industry, almost half of respondents had never had a female boss, a quarter had had one female boss and just 5% had had three female managers. And, according to those same respondents, just 21% of board members are women.
The reasons why women are not so prominent in construction are myriad, from lack of awareness and the perception that it is a hands-on, male-dominated industry to the risk of derogatory comments, lack of flexibility, long hours and the work involved to gain credibility – many women feel like they have to work harder to prove themselves than their male counterparts.
Of those asked by Randstad, a third of women working in construction had experienced some form of discrimination and 31% said they had been subjected to inappropriate comments or behaviour from male colleagues. Another 12% said they had been passed over for promotion while 11% said they had been excluded from male conversations or social events.
There are senior women working to change the face of the industry with various initiatives designed to encourage women into construction. The Considerate Constructors Scheme launched a campaign last year to do just that and the Not Just For Boys movement by the Construction Youth Trust is aimed at getting young women into the industry straight out of college.
How to overcome the gender imbalance?
There is still some way to go before women are truly well-represented, but construction companies are working to eradicate the gender imbalance. More than half (60%) of businesses asked said they had increased the number of women in their ranks over the last five years and 22% said they were already trying to raise the profile of their female employees to create positive role models.
Breaking down stereotypes and changing public perception is also being actively tackled by businesses, as is offering more flexible working options. But also promoting the industry to women when they are still at college and encourage them to take STEM subjects is another way forward.
Eliminating derogatory behaviour, bullying and harassment, as well as providing clear development and training opportunities would also help to narrow the gender gap. Mentoring is another effective way of retaining female staff and helping them climb the career ladder. With a concerted effort from key industry players, there is every chance the tide will turn and more women will view a career in construction as a great one.