Recent data analysed by ERP software supplier RedSky has highlighted disappointing growth in the number of female construction workers within the last two decades. Since 1995, the number of women working within the industry has risen a measly 3%, with less than a fifth choosing a construction-based role in 2023.
There are now mounting pressures and initiatives to increase the representation of female workers within construction. Encouraging a more diverse workforce offers significant benefits for all areas of construction, such as greater access to top-tier talent, enhanced critical thinking and even improved workplace culture. In a male-dominated industry, it’s clear construction firms must do more.
What’s Causing the Gender Skill Gap?
With over 3.1 million workers in the construction industry, it’s a popular sector within the UK. Around 9% of Britain’s working population is employed in a construction-based role, ranging from on-site contractors to data analysts. Despite popularity, the industry is heavily male-dominated, with women making up only 16% of all workers, so why is this?
- Lack of Female Representation
According to one study, just 21% of board members identify as female, meaning many construction firms have minimal to no female representation higher up in the chain. Without vocal representation, many women will disregard construction as an industry to work in.
- Perceptions, Misconceptions and Stereotypes
Despite living in 2023, discrimination is still rife against women in the workplace. Sadly, this is also true in construction, with around12% of female construction workers expressing they’d been ignored for a promotion because of their gender. Whilst it’s a problem in the industry, it’s still an issue in the UK overall. Around 75% of the UK’s population believes gender stereotypes still exist.
- Unconscious Bias
If 75% of the UK population believes that gender stereotypes still exist, then unconscious bias is still common, even in an industry like construction. Unconscious bias is the act of judging or making decisions about someone based on your own experiences. From a young age, we tend to prefer people who are like us, because we see them as safe and predictable. This is why some workplaces may seem to be full of very similar people, and why HR teams need to be mindful of unconscious bias when hiring.
For example, many women may be passed up for promotions because people assume that they want to have children and therefore cannot commit to the job, or that they are physically weaker than men and therefore not strong enough for the job. These judgments are made without talking to the individual to find out if they are true.
As 12% of female workers have said, they have been passed over for promotion in the construction industry. It is possible that unconscious bias played a role in this. It is also likely that male candidates are preferred over female candidates in the recruitment process. However, this does not mean that a female worker should always be selected for a role simply to combat unconscious bias. It simply means that we should judge people based on their merits and qualifications, not their gender.
What Initiatives are Driving Female Talent Into Construction?
1. Sponsorship and Mentoring Programmes
There are a handful of sponsorship and mentoring programmes for women looking to start and progress a career within construction. For example, Moving On Up by Women Into Construction supports companies in retaining and progressing women within their workforce. From demonstrating gender diversity in tenders to improving work culture, this initiative offers significant benefits.
2. Attractive Pay Package
Out of Britain’s major industries, construction is in the top 10 for average weekly earnings. Workers in the industry earn an average of £742 a week, beating industries like Education (£531) and Transport (£679). Its attractive pay package is an incentive to bring many into the industry, not just women.
3. Flexible Working Arrangements
With huge deadlines and completion dates to adhere to, many construction workers have experienced long hours to get their jobs done. For many people, this lack of work-life balance is unattractive, meaning it can also turn women off, especially those who value their free time or have young families. Now, construction firms are devising ways to improve flexible working.
4. Inclusive Company Culture
Introducing more women is just one step to creating an inclusive company culture. By embracing a range of genders, ethnic backgrounds and abilities, construction firms can start to demonstrate a level of inclusion and acceptance amongst their workforce. Creating an inclusive company culture also aids retention rates.
5. Opportunities for Progression
Around half of the construction workforce expressed they’d never had a female manager. Of course, many companies are already looking to change this, and are seeing major benefits in return. From improved productivity to having an extra pair of hands, female workers bring many skills to the industry that must be recognised.
It’s Time for Construction Firms to Act and Embrace More Female Talent
The construction industry offers significant opportunities for women, yet their representation remains at a mere 16% of the workforce. To bridge the skill gap and address the current shortage, construction firms must act swiftly. By reassessing workplace culture, actively recruiting female workers, and implementing effective mentoring programs, these firms can tap into a vast pool of untapped talent. Prioritising the inclusion and advancement of women will not only address the gender imbalance but also drive innovation and success in the industry.
According to Monique Campbell, Customer Services Director for RedSky, the time for action is now. She states, “Women in our industry not only bring diversity but also fresh perspectives and innovation. We bring a vast range of skills that benefit all areas of construction, from board management level to business analytics and independent contractors to project managers.”
She continues, “Closing the gender skill gap is essential if we want this industry to keep thriving and evolving. The industry has seen shortages in labour and resources in recent years, which can easily be filled by skilled female workers.”