Women in Construction: how the industry can attract more female workers

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In the wake of Brexit, the pandemic and an exodus of skilled workers, the UK has found itself in the midst of a talent shortage in many areas, Construction being one of them.

A housing boom – whilst great for the industry – has further increased demand for skilled construction workers. The Construction Skills Network forecast in June that the industry will need to recruit an additional 217,000 new workers by 2025 to meet demand. Attracting more women into the industry is one such solution.

As a male-dominated industry, women continue to be vastly under-represented in Construction. Of 2.2 million construction workers in the UK, just 289,000 of those are women, making it one of the worst industries when it comes to gender balance. This clearly has to change, to ensure a more diverse workforce (which several studies have also found increases a company’s productivity, innovation and, ultimately, profitability), for better equality, and to help to reduce the skills shortage in the Construction industry. 

Early education

We know that the Construction industry hires for a huge range of jobs but many don’t.

As well as onsite jobs such as electrics, plumbing and bricklaying, there are vast cross-section roles that many don’t associate with Construction, such as marketing, bid writing and buying. All should be well publicised to demonstrate the wide range of opportunities within the industry.

Educating school and university pupils of the possibilities within the industry is vital, as is encouraging girls to study STEM subjects or consider apprenticeships or vocational courses. Female role models can have a really positive effect here too. With Go Construct finding that 37% of graduate Construction employees are now female, things may be starting to change from the ground up.

Inclusive job ads

As with any sector, job ads for all Construction roles should be inclusive. Aside from the more obvious advice such as not using pronouns, gender-coded words such as ‘aggressive’ and ‘decisive’ need to be avoided in order to not deter female applicants.

There are plenty of real-world examples that prove this is more than just theory. As revealed at a Fortune conference, when the merchant Banking division at Goldman Sachs removed ‘aggressive’ from its job ads, female applications skyrocketed. The term has become common in finance job ads for qualities such as energy and determination but it is incredibly off-putting to women. When the team removed the word from its job ads they ended up with the enviable status of having a completely equal gender balance at every level, right up to partners. This is an example from a Finance recruitment perspective but removing gendered words in job ads should help to encourage more women to apply for jobs in any sector.

Include females in the recruiting and onboarding process

Not only will having a female representative during the hiring process help to ensure a less biased viewpoint, including women at the interview stage can help female candidates feel encouraged that D&I is taken seriously and that there is a good chance for career progression. There also needs to be female representation at the post-hire onboarding stage and a mentoring culture should be encouraged.  

Networking and support

Celebrating the achievements and accomplishments of women in the industry is important so that women can see what’s possible – and know that hard work and success will be recognised, whatever your gender or background. Establishing a support network of women within construction companies, including women in leadership roles, can be reassuring and a huge motivator. It also helps to create an inclusive environment so that female employees can feel supported and valued. 

Respecting the needs of female employees

Basic needs such as ensuring there is PPE to fit female workers to enable them to work safely and comfortably and offering female toilets onsite are non-negotiable.

Offering flexible working where possible so that women can work without worrying about childcare is also hugely attractive. Caring responsibilities shouldn’t only fall to women but the reality is they still largely do so improving access to the industry in terms of work schedules could be hugely beneficial.

When the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors asked industry professionals for their recommendations to encourage more female talent into the sector, 48% of respondents said that flexible working is key.

There are more females needed at every level and in the wide range of roles that the industry offers. There’s a huge amount to be done to attract, recruit and retain female talent into the Construction industry but it will pay off – in filling vacancies, reducing skills gaps, improving D&I in Construction workplaces and culture, and in improving productivity and revenue.

From educating girls at school and university about opportunities in Construction to increasing awareness among females at all levels of their careers that a role in Construction could offer a fantastic career, to the harder but absolutely vital issues of tackling the gender pay gap and changing outdated attitudes towards female construction workers.

With an ageing workforce, skills shortages that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and Brexit, and a construction boom as Britain (literally) builds back, it is more imperative than ever to access all of the talent available. Attracting female construction talent isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes business sense.