They say that everything stems from childhood and a study of more than 400,000 boys and girls aged between four and 14, has proven exactly that. Looking at gender stereotypes, the study found that gender attachment to particular jobs is set by the age of four.
And in the case of the construction industry, if this continues, it could have a devastating effect. In a world where women are less likely to ask for a pay rise than men, with lack of confidence and employer attitudes being the top two causes, we need to consider ways in which the construction industry can break away from these norms.
The solution is twofold: internal and external, and the only way to actually make a difference is by looking at the approach holistically. Considering the task at hand as a whole, here are five key ways we can instil genuine change
start with children.
Society has made efforts to move away from a ‘pink or blue’ binary state of mind and colours are starting to become gender neutral. The same should be applied to job roles and functions and…toys!
One of the most educational toys you can give a child is LEGO. This incredible childhood toy has been around for decades, and comes with a myriad of benefits for early development – from fine motor skills to puzzle solving and engineering. If you think about LEGO building as a process, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that it’s actually a small-scale version of a real life construction site – would it?
smells like teen spirit.
The next generation of workers start to form career plans during their teenage years so why not take industry messaging to the schools? This is the phase where young adults start to hone into their career objectives – a great time to break down stereotypes around an industry that they may not know much about outside pop culture.
Through technology demonstrations, site visits, apprenticeship programs and hands-on experiences, the industry can be reinforced and perceptions can change. Proving to a young adult that both male and females can flourish in an industry like construction, could be a game changer.
teach an old dog new tricks.
Educating older workers might be a trickier task and the process can come with its own unique challenges. Companies should consider creating adult education and workforce development programs for those that are already within the industry, and those thinking about entering.
It would even be beneficial for men and women to work on tasks together and look at the skills that each bring to the table. Science is often proving that women are better at multitasking than men, something especially useful in construction, as workers are often spinning plates on a daily basis. Employment agencies can facilitate the changing of viewpoints, as they are on the frontline of employment and getting people into work.
promote more women.
When more than 5,400 construction, property, engineering and rail professionals were surveyed, one question asked was how having a female manager would impact their jobs. The response came with an overwhelming 93% saying that it would either ‘stay the same’ or ‘have a positive effect’. With such apparent openness in the industry, there’s definitely room for improvement.
Notoriously known as an industry that adheres to strict deadlines and budgets, the construction industry can’t afford to overlook candidates because of gender – especially as it’s already an industry lacking skilled workers. Perhaps what it actually boils down to is socialising. Companies should look at organising events that are more inclusive, with less “male activities”, and more gender-neutral fun to promote interaction and conversation.
Improvements are being made, however, 2017 figures indicate that only 11% of the engineering workforce is female. The good news is that concerted efforts are being made to turn the tide and improve this stark figure. Improving female representation across all aspects of STEM, including engineering, and the construction industry has been a hot topic for some time. And needs to be addressed.
The industry has a problem, there’s currently a substantial shortage of skilled STEM professionals which is estimated to be anywhere in the region of 25,500 to 60,000 workers. One solution that all companies should be exploring is to increase the female engineering workforce, which is the lowest percentage in Europe behind Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
Efforts being made by entities such as the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) are great examples that help raise the awareness of engineering for girls and women within schools and Universities through events, awards and showcasing female role models. Organisations should look at ways that they can implement similar approaches.
Bringing more women into the industry will not only help to plug the gap, there are other intrinsic benefits to increasing diversity in the workforce. Diversity is important for all types of businesses.
Research indicates that companies are 15% more likely to perform better with a gender diverse workforce. More significantly, diversity helps to foster innovation which is a competitive advantage particularly in engineering and STEM - this innovation means progress in all aspects of life. Change is inevitable in any industry, but a collective social responsibility is required to make it positive. Stereotypes are slowly being eradicated but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.