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Women in Construction: Time to think differently – report launch and debate

Mace’s Barbara Welch comments on a recent report on women in construction and outlines some of her own ideas for improving diversity in the construction industry.

On Wednesday 12 March, about 150 people shuffled into a room in Portcullis House for the launch of the Smith Institute report titled Women in Construction: Time to Think Differently.

In light of Construction News’s front page last month, pronouncing that only 12 per cent of people in the construction industry are women, there is no doubt about the fact that if we are to create a more inclusive and diverse industry, we need to not only think differently, we need to make a step change.

“To make a step change, we need to tackle the inclusivity issues and barriers to entry/retention on all fronts”

There was a lot of energy and passion in the room. It was great to hear how committed some people are about their career choices and the industry in which they have chosen to work.

I share and echo their energy, passion and enthusiasm for the industry and how much of a difference it makes within society.

More Jeffs than girls

The debate was wide and varied, ranging from how do we get more women to do apprenticeships through to making changes at the top, which, to my amusement, included an observation from one of the panel that “there are more people called Jeff on our board than there are women”.

Suggestions included more women taking STEM subjects, better careers advice at school, changing public perception of the industry and the role of women higher up the ranks acting as role models.

But while these suggestions are all correct and need to happen, it’s nothing new. To make a step change, we need to tackle the inclusivity issues and barriers to entry/retention on all fronts. We need to keep measuring how we are doing and looking for continual improvement.

Not just women

To move the debate on, this doesn’t just apply to women either. This isn’t simply a question of gender diversity but one of creating a more inclusive construction industry which shakes off its old image and gets better at attracting talent from all walks of life.

“We need to learn from other industries and from other countries where the construction industry has a more professional image”

There is a shortage of talent in many parts of the industry and it is in everyone’s interest for us to raise the bar and attract the high fliers into construction; once we have got the talent, we need to retain it, too.

We need to offer exciting and challenging careers. We need to learn from other industries that have successfully attracted and retained more diverse workforces and from other countries where the construction industry has a more professional image.

Get out there

If everyone in the industry got out and spoke to pupils, teachers, parents and the general public with the same level of energy and passion that came from Naomi Long MP, a former civil engineer from Northern Ireland, the industry would be in a different place.

But we don’t. We leave it for someone else to do. Sadly after 10 years as a passionate civil engineer, Ms Long chose to leave the industry in favour of a career in politics.

A real loss to the industry, but given there are so few people in politics who really understand the challenges we face, hopefully she is now in a good position to help us change the industry from the outside-in.

Barbara Welch is business unit director at Mace

Readers' comments (2)

  • Great debate - let's not forget the sound business sense that diversity and inclusion makes too

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  • After nearly 31 years in Construction I have heard this all so many times before. It is a shame that things have still not improved and, very sadly, I cannot see them ever doing so. Everyone is good at talking about this issue but as soon as the room is cleared it's all back to the same old. How many women are in top 'construction' positions? Not HR or Marketing, but Operations, Commercial, Estimating or Managing Director positions?

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