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Why are we still talking about women in construction?

Look around the offices of any construction-related business and you’ll see lots of women working at all levels and making a positive contribution to the sector.

Look around most construction sites and you’ll be lucky to find a single women in any role.

The government’s Construction 2025 strategy puts the figure for women in construction at just 13.5 per cent and, according to the Electrical Contractors’ Association, less than 1 per cent of qualified operatives in the electrical sector are women.

Hardly surprising then that the lack of diversity in the construction workforce continues to be a topic that concerns and perplexes many.

For me, the decision to establish a career in the industry didn’t feel like anything unusual.

I’d always had the idea of being an electrical engineer and my dad thought starting from the bottom and gaining site experience was the best way to go.

So when I decided to follow an apprenticeship route and become an electrician, he was really supportive.

First hurdle

I was fortunate; for many young girls the first obstacle to a career in construction is parents that are nervous of seeing their daughters enter a traditionally male-dominated sector.

“Much of what needs to be done to address the gender imbalance needs to happen at the school-leaver recruitment stage”

Unfortunately, while there are still so few women working in site roles, the old stereotypes persist and concerns about working in all-male environments will continue to influence both young women and their parents, acting as a barrier to change.

So what’s the answer?

For me, the key was the support I had, not only from family but from the training organisation behind my apprenticeship and the companies I have worked for.

After attending a careers fair and speaking to a training organisation, they sent me for an aptitude test and suggested I then contact some local companies for possible apprenticeships.

I signed up with a local company who were very supportive from the outset.

Get in the classroom

Much of what needs to be done to address the gender imbalance in construction trades needs to happen at the school-leaver recruitment stage.

Only by helping young women see the opportunities for career development and enabling them to look past gender stereotypes can the construction sector create an appetite for site-based roles among the female population.

“Once I’d had a family, working away from home was no longer an option and that’s a reality of the sector that cannot easily be resolved”

It’s then up to employers to ensure they not only provide a good working environment but also the flexibility needed to keep good people.

One of the things I loved about my job during my early career was the diversity of projects and the travel involved.

Once I’d had a family, however, working away from home was no longer an option and that’s a reality of the sector that cannot easily be resolved.

Thanks to LJJ, a role in the estimating department where I can use my skills in a different way and still manage to be home each night for my little boy gives me peace of mind that there are companies willing to help all their staff to achieve that work/home balance.

For the construction sector as a whole, it’s an area that requires some creative thinking.

As a women who’s enjoyed working on site, I hope the industry does find some answers to the diversity question.

Alison Welford is an estimator at LJJ

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