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Not just for men: We have to challenge these misconceptions

Mark Robinson

Gender disparity within the UK workforce is a hot topic, now more than ever.

The disparity has become so stark that the government has been compelled to bring in legislation to force around 9,000 companies to publish their gender pay gap data.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest culprits for gender imbalance is construction, considered one of the worst sectors for female employees. A UK Economic Outlook report reveals that women make up just 12.6 per cent of the industry’s workforce. Given troubling statistics such as this, there is a clear need for change.

More broadly, women still appear to draw the short straw in employment. A 2017 report published by the Office for National Statistics showed that women earn 14 per cent less than men who are in the same role.

This figure rises to 22 per cent further up the hierarchical ladder, with male managers 40 per cent more likely to be promoted into higher roles than their female equivalents, according to data from the Chartered Management Institute.

Earlier this year, recruitment firm Ranstad published its Women in Construction report highlighting that inappropriate male comments, missed promotion opportunities and unconscious bias driven by misguided cultures all deterred women from entering construction careers.

On the rise

Despite this, the findings did uncover some areas of progress. The female proportion of the construction workforce is on the rise, with 37 per cent of new entrants into the industry being women arriving from higher education.

To maintain and improve this positive trajectory, we must make construction more appealing to women by ensuring there are sufficient role models in senior positions who can provide guidance and insight. According to a recent Ranstad report, 93 per cent of the existing workforce say that having female senior leadership would maintain or improve standards of work. 

“Ensuring a larger pool of talent drives forward UK productivity by shrinking the skills gap. With Brexit looming, this is more important than ever”

Scape Procure MD Victoria Brambini is one such example of an equal rights champion, having won the Nottingham Post Women in Construction Award last year.

Independent not-for-profit organisations such as Women Into Construction are also providing bespoke support to women wishing to work in the industry. They are helping contractors recruit trained women into the sector, ensuring a larger pool of talent drives forward UK productivity by shrinking the skills gap. With Brexit looming, this is more important than ever.

Normalisation

We must embrace efforts to normalise female leadership and actively challenge the misconception that construction is solely for men. Thankfully, the industry has woken up to this and we are beginning to see campaigns drawn up to tackle the challenge such as the Inspire Me initiative from Construction News.

We must also get better at highlighting the variety of roles available beyond laying bricks and plastering walls. 

While there is still a long way to go, change is happening. Breaking down the misconception of the industry and targeting women as well as men at a younger age is vital – Kier’s Shaping Your World campaign is a good example of this in action.

At Scape we are actively putting this into practice by working with universities and colleges to educate and welcome young women into the industry. On a further positive note, I am also proud to say that last year Scape Group’s recruitment ratio was 47 per cent female.

Not only is it important to ensure a workforce positively reflects the values and behaviours of our society, it must also be a force for driving UK productivity and future prosperity.

Mark Robinson is chief executive of Scape

Readers' comments (1)

  • What we must also breakdown is the ages of the work force in these things. Look at the gender balance of workforces 20-30/30-40/40-50. We cannot change 100 years of social history overnight and suddenly find 100000 women over 50 to take up half the top jobs. The gender balance of construction (in non site trade roles) over 50 is roughly 95/5 But if we look at the balance under 30 its nearer 75/25. It will take another 20 years to change this to nearer 50/50, but look at the last 20 years and it shows it is happening.
    We also need to look at the pay gap at the different ages, its too easy to say women paid 30% less, if the gender balance is 95/5 that's highly likely, if its 75/25 the probability is it will be less.
    I also bet most people doing the same job are paid the same amount. I know in the top 10 contractor I work for that is definitely true.
    We then need to work out how we are going to get 50% of Brickies/plasterers/Joiners/Electricians/Ground workers female.

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