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There is an opportunity for women in construction, not just a crisis

We attended the launch of the Smith Institute’s paper “building the future: women in construction” in March which outlined the challenges faced by women in the construction industry.

This was a detailed and considered analysis of how women are underrepresented in one of the UK’s largest industries despite the numbers of women in full time employment.

This was, in many respects, a surprise as we have seen the increase in female graduates and trainees and yet we still face the problem that women are not making their way along the career ladder in construction.

Certainly for our generation it was hoped that the talk of glass ceilings was a thing of the past given that in our respective professions: law and architecture, we have seen significant numbers of female practitioners working on high profile projects both in the UK and overseas.  

As you would expect, this research conducted by the Smith Institute has prompted concern from many commentators as if we are to take full advantage of upturn in the economy and address skills shortages we need to tackle this head on.

The paper suggests that formal recruitment processes are resulting in a highly qualified and diverse graduate and trainee workforce but somewhere between that and the board room women are still being filtered out.

To say this is because promotions are agreed on the golf course or that women are primary carers for children cannot be the only answers and this paper tries to drill down into the detail of what this might be.

However, what cannot be denied is that women need to take full advantage of the support groups that exist for them and should try to encourage others to take an active role in developing young professionals so that their full potential is reached.

What we have observed is that assimilation into stereotypical male roles or behaviours is not actually a benefit to either gender and we should look to maintaining a balance between work performance and external networking and profile-raising.

For example, focussing business and career development on weekend sports events, long lunches, late night drinks parties and black tie events is going to be prohibitive to those who hold more junior positions or responsibilities outside of the office.

That has prompted us to maintain a range of activities from breakfasts to seminars, webinars, interviews with various construction professionals, debates and informal networking so that there are a wide range of opportunities for women to become involved.

As far as the National Association of Women in Construction is concerned, there are women working in a wide spectrum of construction roles in the UK and internationally and many who now hold senior positions. What this means for us is that there is a large resource of female talent that should be used to offer mentorship, careers advice and to build the profile of women in construction.

Therefore, what we have now is not a crisis but a great opportunity that we must take up for the benefit of our industry.

Theresa Mohammed is a contentious construction senior associate at Trowers & Hamlins and deputy chair of the London and South East committee for the National Association of Women in Construction.

Cristina Lanz-Azcarate is London and the South East chair of the National Association of Women in Construction and a principal at Atelier EURA

Readers' comments (2)

  • It is great to see this sort of research being commissioned in the first place and thanks to Construction News for highlighting its findings. I agree there is a massive opportunity for women to progress and I genuinely believe there has been no better time than now for women to be in the industry. I personally love it but I know many other women struggle to progress. I agree wholeheartedly it is about behaviours and new ways of working and collaborating. Something I think women are brilliant at. I decided to do something positive and back in 2012 I founded an organsiation called Urbanistas which is a women-led network for collaboration around the built environment. We enocurage and support women to take the lead, start things, develop their own voice and support other women. We are open and pro-active and have spread to Manchester, Liverpool and Sydney just this year. Check us out! @urbanistasuk

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  • It is good to see that this is an issue within this industry but we overcoming now. I am a women civil engineer with master's in construcion project management. I really had to struggle and still striggling to secure a good experience/work. But i hope this is a good time to work hard and grab the opportunity.

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