Removing the gender imbalance in construction

In lieu of the Grenfell disaster and the collapse of Carillon, the construction industry is having a huge identity crisis. With the industry’s ever-widening skills shortage getting worse, modernisation of the industry is long overdue. As well as this, the industry has the added pressure to solve what is sadly the worst gender balance of any industry. As a collective, how can we challenge the typical, often negative stereotypes of an industry where less than 14% of workers are women? Jayne Hall, Vice-President of CABE, looks at this growing issue, to see how the gender imbalances can potentially be resolved.

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irty, dangerous and macho is the age-old, stereotypical image of construction and many women, even now, think that they will get wolf-whistled or ogled when they pass a building site. But that is not the reality; it’s something that happens rarely. In fact, it hardly ever happens. Thankfully, the construction sector has moved on from this scenario, and there are positive advances. There remains, however, a pressing need to do more to encourage gender diversity in the workplace, which, in turn, will make it more attractive.

As someone who champions inclusivity for CABE, I firmly believe the industry needs to sharpen up its image and make itself appear attractive to women and ethnic minorities. Despite construction being one of the largest employees in the UK, progress is slow. It needs to come across as more professional and dispel the myths of misogyny and glass ceilings. Of course, this is much broader than construction – industries as a whole are reducing their talent pool.

Diversity is a key driver of innovation and the development of new ideas. A report on gender diversity by the Mckinsey Global Institute called Women Matter, found that a full-potential scenario in which women participate in the economy in Europe could add a staggering $2tn to the GDP by 2025.

It also suggests that the companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top management level are the same companies that perform best. The more diversity you have on a team, the more experienced and broader you are. Otherwise, it is self-limiting.

Back in the classroom

At 15 or 16 years old, young people are asked to choose options, but the stereotypes discourage them. They don’t want to be outnumbered and the only girl on a physics or technology course, for example. Educational institutions need to address this imbalance to get true equality. Girls end up making unconscious assumptions, but if you can engage them earlier to tackle these limiting and harmful gender stereotypes, it will encourage girls into the profession.

Sadly, colleges don’t do as much as they should to attract and encourage women on engineering courses. A young girl would have to encounter the uncomfortable situation of walking into a male-dominated classroom. The lack of encouragement, and a curriculum that isn’t inclusive as it should be, has meant we are damaging both the potential of women and the potential of the economy as a whole. We need to show young women there is a career path at every level.

It’s imperative that we increase the number of young women in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees and in STEM careers, and this all starts from a young age. For example, Inspiring Women is an organisation that aims to break down gender stereotypes by connecting schools with inspirational women from a range of interesting careers who visit schools to talk about their work and open their eyes to future possibilities.

Finding a solution

By fully understanding that diversity within the built environment is a contributing factor to the skills shortage and other issues, CABE plays an active role in reaching out to a diverse audience and ensuring we make the case for a truly inclusive built environment which caters for all. A strong equality and diversity policy and one that is very inclusive means that CABE can take an industry lead. CABE is, after all, an international organisation and therefore must inspire our current global membership and the next generation that inclusivity should be the norm, in much the same way that health and safety has been introduced into every aspect of our work.

Of course, it is not only about gender; diversity is, of course, about race, people with disabilities and also age. It should not be a tick-box exercise; the end goal should be to reward people – no matter what age, gender, ethnicity and physical attributes – for their application and how well they can do a job.

Gender equality and diversity is becoming increasingly high on the industry’s agenda. The engineering profession as a whole is making progress on gender and inclusivity with many women, like myself, who have created happy and successful careers in engineering. As a woman, it is a great industry to be part of, with many benefits. Not only will better gender diversity widen the talent pipeline, but it will also improve the sector’s image and tackle the skills shortage. It is a win-win situation all round.

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