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International Women's Day is a chance to reflect on diversity in construction

The construction sector is in the midst of an acute skills shortage, with wages creeping up and housebuilders starting to cite a lack of skilled workers as a barrier to building more new homes.

We also have an ageing workforce. The CITB predicts that 400,000 workers could retire from the UK construction industry in the next five to 10 years. Taken together, you can’t help but get the impression that the situation is grave – very grave indeed.

“The ONS says the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low that it’s unmeasurable”

So that’s why it vexes me that our industry still employs so few women. Currently women make up just 11 per cent of the UK construction workforce and only 1 per cent of workers on site.

The Office for National Statistics says the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low that it’s unmeasurable. It’s no wonder that we’re desperately short of quantity surveyors, engineers, site managers and painters and decorators when we’re failing to appeal to half the population.

Euro compare

Given that the EU is very much at the forefront of our minds currently, let’s take a moment to compare ourselves with some of our European neighbours.

The picture isn’t all bad: we fare much better than countries such as Poland, where just 6.5 per cent of construction workers are female. However, nations like Austria and France are ahead of the UK, with 15 per cent and 14 per cent of their respective workers being female.

Today is International Women’s Day and it therefore seems like an opportune time to reflect on the issue of women in construction – why are we, as an industry, failing to appeal to women en masse and what can we do better or differently?

“Let’s remember that all business sectors, including construction, will be stronger and more successful if they are attractive to both sexes”

I’m pleased to say that we have some really inspiring and prominent women within the FMB’s membership, albeit still far too few of them. Last week, I was talking to one in particular about how she thinks we can tackle this problem and start attracting more women into the industry.

Ishrat Sharif is the director and owner of a small construction firm called DPB in Barking, east London. Ishrat trained as an accountant but transitioned into the construction industry after a stint as a property developer.

She said attitudes are gradually changing but a lot of people who enter DPB’s offices still automatically assume she is the secretary as opposed to the boss. However, Ishrat has an optimistic outlook and is inspired to do her bit to change things.

Self-promotion

She argues that it’s up to her and her female peers to promote their own existence within the sector so girls and young women have someone they can relate to.

We all have a part to play to help promote more women in construction including trade associations, umbrella bodies, major contractors and even your small local building firm. All business sectors, including construction, will be stronger and more successful if they are attractive to both sexes.

Until we address the problem of women in construction, our industry will be all the poorer for it.

Brian Berry is chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders

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