In the second quarter of 2023, the construction industry saw its diversity figures increase, with women now making up 18.8% of the construction workforce, up 1.5% from the previous quarter , a percentage that has previously been broadly stagnant for decades.
In terms of numbers, approximately 1.8 million men are employed in UK construction compared to 340,000 women. Although any increase in women entrants should be celebrated, the gender disparity remains overwhelming. But what can be done to improve this figure, and why should we?
Why the construction industry needs women
The UK's construction industry is facing an ongoing skills shortage and overcoming it requires improving diversity. Young and female workers are not content working in an environment where there is a clear gender divide, and the soft skills and critical thinking abilities that women offer not only diversify, but enrich the workplace for all.
It has been demonstrated on many occasions that the more inclusive a working environment, the greater its levels of productivity. When staff feel motivated and engaged, they work harder and are more committed to their outputs. When a business becomes more productive, staff efforts tend to be recognised and rewarded, resulting in increased staff satisfaction and a reduced attrition rate.
Proving this point, most of the FTSE 100 companies have a strong and diverse leadership team, and they often attribute their enviable financial success to this level of diversity.
Why the gender imbalance exists
Construction is a male-dominated industry with a reputation for chauvinistic attitudes. Women tend not to want to work in an environment in which they feel they are likely to be discriminated against, harassed, disrespected or poorly paid in comparison with their male colleagues.
Not all sites cater equally for male and female workers, and when women are expected to share men's toilets or are not provided with comfortable and well-fitted PPE, they can feel unwelcome and disinclined to remain within the employment of that organisation.
The construction industry has a reputation for being environmentally unsustainable, and many women prefer to work in an industry in which they feel that they are contributing to a brighter tomorrow.
Challenging perceptions and championing progress
In order to attract more women to construction, a three-pronged approach will be necessary. And this must be approached with a genuine commitment to increasing diversity. It is not enough to pay lip service to inclusivity without taking targeted action. The top talent knows their worth and will not be convinced by a shiny patina without any real depth.
To increase the number of women in construction, we must first attract them to STEM subjects whilst in education. It is vital that women are empowered to pursue careers in engineering, science, technology and mathematics, their endeavours encouraged, and their achievements celebrated.
The construction industry needs to promote the valuable work performed by female employees. By raising the visibility of women in the workplace, construction companies can appeal to female students, showcasing the wide range of roles on offer and celebrating the women who are already making their dreams a reality.
It is essential that construction firms also promote the work that they are doing to reduce carbon emissions and deliver projects in an ethical and environmentally conscious manner.
2. Promote role models.
Promoting the role of women in the construction workforce can motivate students to pursue a career in the industry. It also helps women to visualise themselves fulfilling a similar role. It is important that any female candidates considering a career in construction have female role models to look up to.
Construction companies could consider asking their female workers to become brand ambassadors, sharing their experiences with others to entice more women into the workforce. They could talk about the benefits, salary, working environment and flexibility that their organisation offers and how this enables them to achieve a good work-life balance.
3. Create the right environment.
Many women with parental responsibilities or aspirations are discouraged from pursuing a career in construction, believing that the travel, long hours and manual work will preclude them from securing a viable long-term role.
Firms must demonstrate their commitment to gender diversity by providing meaningful opportunities to the women they employ. They must actively promote the range of roles that are available, including leadership positions and support women in achieving their career objectives.
They must take a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and promote the benefits and safety measures that are in place. They should also mandate that all staff attend annual diversity training and have an effective HR department to deal with any concerns or complaints that arise.
By implementing these measures, construction firms will be well placed to satisfy the needs of their existing female employees as well as attract new women starters to their organisation.