Diversity in the construction sector

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Diversity in the construction sector; It’s been a steady discussion that has spanned the last ten years. We’ve heard of incremental movements happening worldwide to create gender equality and break barriers, but how far has the progression benefitted women in the workplace?

The UK still maintains the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe, with just 11% of the engineering workforce being women. Studies suggests that women fear a lack of career progression by entering the trade, which may be a result of the industry’s leading authoritative figures being men. This may explain why less women apply to the industry or companies struggle to maintain female employees’ long term. This is reportedly a big problem for companies who are trying to resolve the issue. 

The introduction of gender pay-gap reports has created a pressure for companies to address equality within their organisations. This has helped fuel the discussion of women in the workplace and places a spotlight on male-dominated industries such as the construction sector.

Balfour Beatty has taken a leadership approach to the issue in the aim to inspire and recruit like-minded behaviour by others in the industry. In a recent statement, the company exclaimed “the (gender equality) issues also go far wider than the industry itself. Tackling them will require a joined-up approach from the industry, Government and commissioning authorities, beginning with children at primary school and continuing throughout education and training and in the workplace”. The company continued to put their thoughts into action by creating several initiatives to tackle the issue, such as unconscious bias training, encouraging women to sign up to the Young Women’s trust to gain access to construction apprenticeships, and also created an industry campaign to improve women’s retention and progression.

Other improvements across the industry are coming to light. In 2015, the construction industry witnessed a 20 year high of females being employed, since then its being growing 6.6% each year. The benefits of equality in the workforce are being seen across the construction industry. The 2015 Mckinsey report showed that companies with gender-diversity were performing 14% better than non-diverse companies. Furthermore, it was proven that with a more diverse workforce this resulted in a larger pool of talent with different employee’s bringing different qualities, mindsets and skills. It unlocked an abundance of potential for innovation as embracing diversity and working in unison with different mindsets accumulates a powerful tool that companies should embrace.

The recent pay gap report issued by Cala Homes shows a remarkable effort from the housing industry to address and resolve the issues. Last year, 84.6% of female employees received a bonus, whilst 70.6% of male employees received one. Not only does this show Cala’s dedication to recognising and appraising the success of women in the workforce, but also takes steps to tackle the previously mentioned issue of retainment through fears of lack of career progression. With figures such as these, the construction industry is a much more desirable option for females to enter.

Construction giant Mclaughlin and Harvey stated that women are under-represented in the industry is due to the lack of interest in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In their 2017 corporate annual report, the firm stated “We actively work with secondary schools before the students choose their subjects, making them aware of the exciting opportunities and wide variety of job roles within the construction industry… Our focus is on encouraging more females into careers in STEM disciplines through our educational partnerships using females already employed in the business as STEM Ambassadors in our local schools.” This is a pivotal step in the reconfiguration of mindset in the industry.  To conclude their efforts, they rounded the discussion with a commitment to building a more diverse workforce and develop new initiatives to improve how they attract, engage and develop women, and other under-represented groups.

By combining Mclaughlin and Harvey’s approach to encouraging STEM subjects to equal genders, and Cala’s approach to employee retention, the future of females in the construction industry looks bright.

Looking ahead to the future, the main factor that requires attention from the construction sector and public alike, is the mindset and attitude towards women in the workplace. There needs to be a shift in discussion where women can play the same roles as men, and the noun of certain roles (engineer, mechanic, builder) is not associated with one gender or another. World globalisation has increased competition and pressure for companies to innovate rapidly. Gender equality produces a wider talent pool and provokes a different thought process when making decisions, ultimately shaping companies to perform better when it comes to the future of their business.