The UK construction industry is not a particularly female friendly environment. According to statistics, 99% of on-site construction workers are male. Although this might seem like a natural fit for a very physical job that could involve a lot of endurance, the reality is that even those roles that aren’t particularly physical fail to attract women to the construction industry. Plus, given the changing attitudes towards what the different sexes can do, shouldn’t we be moving away from viewing physical jobs as ‘for men only’?
Given the talent shortage that the entire construction industry has been suffering in recent years, there is clearly a need to look at the parts of the industry that block or discourage broader entry. In this white paper we will examine:
- Why so few women enter the construction industry
- The issues of stereotypes
- Gaps in gender equality
- How to rebalance equality issues
- How to encourage more women into the industry
THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY + WOMEN = NOT A NATURAL FIT?
Currently, it’s clear that women don’t view the construction industry as somewhere that is particularly appealing or accommodating. As it stands, only 11% of the entire construction industry is female – that includes not just the jobs on site but also the roles that might more traditionally be thought of as female friendly, such as design or administrative positions. So, while the construction industry might be desperately crying out for new talent, the diversity picture within it doesn’t encourage women to look for an entry point. But why is that?
- Students. The next generation of construction professionals will come up through training, internships and study. However, the construction industry consistently fails to attract women into the necessary degrees and qualifications. For example, just 14% of engineering courses and technology driven degrees attract women. As a result, the current crop of students is unlikely to yield many new female construction sector employees
- Skills stereotypes. Male and female stereotypes play a big role in any industry but a sector like construction is particularly badly affected by the stereotypical divides between the sexes. As many of the jobs in this sector have a physical element, stereotypes that women are ‘weaker’ and less able to handle many of the rougher tasks in the construction sector create a barrier to women entering this kind of workplace. Resistance from men in the industry to a female boss may be high, whether driven by straightforward sexism or simply not expecting to find a woman in a management role.
- ‘One of the guys.’ Given the large number of men in the construction sector it’s perhaps no surprise that the culture is very male dominated. This can give rise to expectations that women need to pretend to be ‘one of the guys’ in order to fit in. There is little more off-putting for a woman than being reduced to that kind of level in a professional context. If you have to forgo your gender to fit in to a working environment, rather than being judged on your abilities or professional achievements, then why would you want to enter that industry in the first place?
- Male driven advertising. Whether as a result of a lack of awareness that there may be women who are very keen to enter the construction industry, or due to the usual stereotypes, advertising is often targeted at men. Marketing tends to tap into the idea that construction is a masculine job and all the imagery and messaging is focused on this kind of career being part of some kind of tough male identity. Those adverts that don’t go down the macho path offer solutions and redemption to anyone who may not have been that successful at school, who perhaps has rather a chequered past and is looking for a way to get life back on track.
In reality, gender targeted advertising is nothing new. Ad companies do their best to define what it means to be a man or a woman and to dictate the products that we consume as a result, So, for example, with respect to chocolate Yorkie bars are often targeted at men where as the Galaxy is considered to be a very female choice. While this may (or may not) work in the food industry, in construction all it achieves is to block 50% of the UK population from ever taking a tentative step towards a job in the sector.
- The myth of weakness. The idea that women have less physical strength and endurance than men and ‘don’t belong’ in certain jobs is a myth long punctured in other industries. And a number of traditionally very masculine careers do better than construction when it comes to the gender balance. For example, around 3% of truck drivers are women, 8% of RNI station crew are women, 55% of applicants for medicine (doctors) are now women and 4% of train drivers are women. While some of these statistics hardly show a wildly successful gender balance they do indicate that these traditional male industries can benefit from opening up to women – and are starting to do so.
THE GENDER GAP IN CONSTRUCTION – WHERE ARE WE AND WHERE DO WE NEED TO GO
There are few other industries in the UK where the gender gap is quite as vivid as it is in construction. Around nine out of ten of employees in the construction industry are male. Key to note is that this doesn’t just include the jobs that are very physical – such as a builder – but every kind of job right across the sector, from desk jobs to management. Is this because women simply don’t have any interest in construction? It may not be the top of every career choice list but it should be an option for more women than the statistics currently show.
Construction industry jobs are actually very diverse…
If you don’t work within the sector then your first impression of someone who works in construction might be a man working on a construction site. Carpenters, concrete labourers, electricians and engineers might be the kind of jobs you’d most expect to be applying for. However, the reality is that – as anyone actually working in construction knows – these are just a few of the types of roles that exist. In fact, there are construction manager roles, project management jobs, as well as a wide range of positions that draw on other skills, from design to people management. So, the construction sector has roles well suited to women and is missing out by not marketing to them.
Communication could be better…
As established, the construction sector doesn’t do a great job of marketing to women. There is a whole spectrum of skills that are required across the very wide range of jobs that make up the industry, from creativity through to administration skills, that just aren’t properly communicated. If opportunities were more transparently offered, from the boardroom to the building site, across the full spectrum of construction positions then this could encourage women to consider a construction career.
The rewards could be more clearly communicated…
There are many good reasons to seek a career in construction and they go beyond the very gender specific rewards that make it into mainstream advertising. However, these just aren’t communicated.
THE BENEFITS OF DIVERSITY
A more diverse industry benefits everyone involved. Macho culture and excessive masculinity can have a negative impact on any workplace. We live in a world of diverse genders and the differences between the sexes can bring new ideas and enable everyone to move forward and find new solutions and perspectives.
THE FACE OF THE INDUSTRY
Big machines and muscled men in High Vis jackets is a very outdated image but this remains the common perception of the construction industry. It’s time for this to change, to broaden out the aesthetic and become more inclusive in terms of welcoming in the skills and experience that a more female filled workforce could offer. And it’s not just about better roles for women but for a wider diversity of people too. Advertising that is better targeted in terms of its diversity can encourage a wider range of workers into the workplace – creating an environment where gender and race don’t feature at all. The construction industry has the opportunity to set an example by upturning the male only focus and creating something much more equal and balanced.
THE MILLENNIAL ISSUE
As we’ve mentioned before, Millennials care about equality, both men and women. A male dominated, macho work environment might be equally as unappealing to a Millennial man as a Millennial women. The Millennial generation hold the key to solving the talent drain in construction, which is why the balance of genders needs to be carefully considered. Most Millennials want to work somewhere that feels like a community and where social responsibility and equality of opportunity are valued. Only by creating workplaces that truly offer this can the talent of this generation be tapped.
CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN IN CONSTRUCTION
The male: female ratio in the construction industry is pretty poor there is no doubt about that. However, the potential is there to turn this around with the demand for new talent and publicising the wide range of roles that could appeal. There are also a number of other ways in which women could be encouraged to consider the construction industry as a viable career option.
Incentives – equality doesn’t just mean creating opportunities for women, it’s important that both genders are given equal chances. However what incentivises one gender may not be the same as the other. What might make the industry a more popular choice with women could be more flexible working and the opportunity to explore careers that can be balanced with other things. The reality is that there are probably also plenty of male construction workers who would value this kind of change too.
Apprenticeships – the apprenticeship provides an ideal way to give someone a taste of the industry and to assess the potential of this person as a new talent who could perhaps join the team. Loyalty can be built during apprenticeships and a new passion awakened. The key is to ensure that apprenticeships appeal across the genders and that equal opportunities are applied to the recruiting process.
Dealing with the issues – there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s often the fear of discrimination and sexism at work, as well as the problems this could cause for someone looking to climb a career ladder, that may put a perfect applicant off looking to join an industry. That’s why it has become incredibly important to establish new standards for combating sexism – a lack of tolerance for sexist behaviour and providing clear and confidential opportunities and help for those who feel they have suffered it.
Changing the culture – sexism can be deep seated and when the status quo begins to change this can cause serious resentment that triggers an even more overwhelming wave of hostility. The key is to foster a culture of mutual respect where employers and workers are respectful of each other and of colleagues, where everyone can feel part of the team no matter what gender they identify as. This not only makes people feel more comfortable in the workplace but creates a more positive and often a more constructive working environment for everyone.
NOW IS THE TIME TO RECRUIT REGARDLESS OF GENDER
The construction industry needs new talent and there is plenty out there just waiting to be tapped. Taking steps towards positive change in gender equality could be the first step towards creating a more stable and profitable future. If you’re interested in starting a career in construction or moving to working with us, get in touch with The RG Group today on 01732 526 850.
THE RG GROUP’S APPROACH TO RECRUITING WOMEN
The RG Group approaches recruitment in a way that recognises the strengths of the individuals that make up our team. We provide training and ongoing support to all employees and treat everyone equally irrespective of gender, age, religious views, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability, to ensure that we create a positive and community work environment.