Female representation in the construction sector

Women in construction

Women remain a minority in the UK construction sector with only 1% of the employee base in skilled trades are women. That being said, there have been several organisations helping women enter the industry. In recent years, 37% of new entrants into the industry that came from higher education are women. Proving that the sector is not just for men.

Why are there fewer women in construction?

That, however, does not amount to parity and equality in the workplace. Why are there fewer women working in construction? According to a report by Meg Munn MP (2014), a number of features explain why it is an unattractive sector for women.

Primarily, there is a poor image of the industry, which includes uncomfortable working conditions that require physical strength. Secondly, working hours are long and inflexible, making it difficult for working parents. Thirdly, the construction sector is heavily male dominated and is often associated with a culture of ‘laddish’ behaviour and ‘banter’. Sexual harassment remains fairly common. (Greed, 2006)

This, therefore, makes the retention and of course, the attraction of women to the industry difficult. From an employer’s point of view, the same reluctance persists. Some believe that women are not suitable for the manual trades labour in particular because of the physical strength and ingrained culture often found at a building site.

What has been done to help resolve the issue?

Women-into-construction.org are often cited as having intense pride and satisfaction. They find that, have increased confidence outside of work as a result. Historically, women have stepped up to the plate when required, during the first and second world wars and during the 70s and 80s when campaigns were launched to tackle inequality in construction.

Since then, several organisations have been created to help women in the sector. Recently Women into Construction launched a campaign to get more women working on the construction of the infrastructure for the London Olympics. Whilst it never hit its target of getting an 11% female workforce, it did achieve 5%, and women working in headquarters and operational roles were not considered.

Since then, it has received additional support from CITB and Be Onsite to extend the project. It has focused on preparing women looking to enter the industry. Women have been recruited to WIC from referral agencies such as JobCentre Plus or colleges. Ongoing activities include presentations to students to help create a better image of what a career in construction can be like for women. A key success story of WIC has been the introduction of women into work placements, without prior site experience.

Other organisations and networking groups have also been created such as Chicks with Bricks, the National Association of Women in Construction and womenonthetools.org.uk

Has it made a difference?

There is, however, still a long way to go to achieve gender. In a recent report by the Office for National Statistics women formed 12.8% of the construction workforce in Q4 of 2016. Compared to 2007, it was 12.1% so the number has not grown significantly despite new organisations purporting to help.

It remains to be seen therefore whether construction will ever become an attractive sector for women to work in. Perhaps the increase in new entrants being female will go some way to alter these statistics in the future.