It’s no secret that the construction industry is heavily male centric. In fact, there are only around 275,000 women in the entire industry and furthermore, 50,000 of those women work in an office environment.
As there are 2.5 million workers in the British construction industry, this means that women make up for only 12.2 per cent of that figure. Although it has risen from 10.7 per cent in 2010, the UK is still far behind Sweden’s 25 per cent and Germany’s 15 per cent.
But are women interested in joining the industry?
Although there not might be a great rush of female applicants for jobs in construction, according to a 2005 study by the Equal Opportunities Commission, 80 per cent of school girls stated that they would like to train in a non-traditional job. A further 12 per cent of that figure said that they would be interested in learning within the construction industry.
But why are so few women interested in a career within an industry that has proven so lucrative for men?
Katie Metclaf, a senior associate at Gardiner & Theobald, a construction company based in Leeds, said in The Guardian that:
“I don’t know why so few women are attracted to a career in construction but I think it’s partly due to a lack of awareness about the interesting and varied career opportunities, and partly due to the perception of the industry being male dominated and muddy. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Aside from that, there is also another crises facing the construction industry and it is that of an ageing workforce alongside an already present skills shortage, something highlighted in a report by the Chartered Institute of Building last year.
The University of Reading has also looked into the issue in a separate report, stating that:
“Career sexism is an important issue for government, industry, employers and individuals. Occupational segregation is damaging the UK’s competitiveness by contributing to the gender pay gap and preventing it from benefiting from the talents of a balanced workforce. The under-utilisation of human resources dependent on gender patterns is of economic and social concern especially for an economy with an ageing workforce.”
For an industry that needs to hire more than 200,000 workers by 2020, is construction appealing enough to young women?
Indeed, the industry is taking note, despite there still being a 22.8 per cent pay gap between the sexes. Nicky Morgan, speaking at the ‘Chicks with Bricks’ reception at the House of Commons said in January that:
“the gap is too high and I’m determined to see it come down further and faster – because it’s not just women who are missing out.”
According to The Guardian, employers are also taking note, with companies such as Bovis Lend Lease searching to recruit more women within the workplace via mentoring schemes and other programmes.
Speaking to the Jewson Tool Shed, Cara Palmer of Wates Construction Group, upon being asked what the greatest challenges within the industry were, she said that over the past couple of years, the weak economy was the biggest challenge, where:
“young people struggled to get employment and further training was halted for those within employment.” She continued, saying that “[the] sector is definitely picking up, both in terms of winning more work as well as the requirement to employ more people to resource the work.”
Things are picking up for women
The Construction Youth Trust (CYT) has already said that it is “time to think differently” and organisations such as Women and Manual Trades (WAMT) and Women in Building Services Engineering (WiBSE) are pushing for change.
Educationally, institutions such as The Leeds College of Building is also making a stand, training more than 900 women a year, even going on to employ female tutors for all subjects in order to attract more young women into the industry.
In essence, the construction industry hasn’t always been the best place to work for women, but there is change afoot, and it is happening sooner rather than later.
For more information, the Women in Construction, Arts and Technology LTD has a great resource for women searching for courses within construction, arts & crafts and technology.
Author: Jane Wilson is the content executive at the Jewson Tool Shed,who works to help inspire young people into picking up a trade within the construction industry.