Women in construction are not an alien concept. There are around 300,000 women in the UK working in construction, which makes up around 2% of the UK female workforce. The first two recorded women in construction were aristocrats 400 years ago. However, they did not begin to become a staple part of the workforce until the last few decades of the 20th century.
Construction is a field that may simply not occur to many women to enter. The traditional image of it as being a very manual and very dusty job certainly puts many women off. However, there are huge numbers of office-based roles that can allow women to combine an interest in building new towns and cities with academic talents such as maths and physics. For those with an interest in working on site, there are more women than ever before so you won’t be alone. Despite this rise, there aren’t enough women in the industry, which it desperately needs. With modern equal opportunity and an abundance of jobs, there has never been a better time for women to get into construction.
Women in Construction 2019 Statistics
While there is a higher percentage of women in construction than there was in previous decades, the number is nowhere near 50/50.
According to WISE, as of 2018 women made up 12% of engineering professionals and according to Gov.uk, 28% of construction roles. These figures vary from source to source and some claim it’s even lower. A Parliament survey found that the construction industry is one of the most male-dominated sectors in the UK.
With the equal rights and education opportunities that women now have, this low number must surely be down to choice. But why aren’t women choosing to work in construction? Also, why does it matter? In the age of equality, is trying the get people into construction just because they’re women hypocritical?
Why do we need women in construction?
The short answer to this is the skills shortage. This study conducted by CIOB shows that supervisors, managers and surveyors are desperately needed in construction. This shortage is predicted to be even worse after Brexit. One way the UK Government is tackling this is by introducing T-Levels. These will be an alternative to A-Levels that focus on technical skills. Their first three will be available from September 2020, including Design, Surveying and Planning. That this is included in the first three T-Levels shows how in need the country is of these skills.
Ranstad emphasises that women could be the solution, not just in numbers but that “gender-balanced teams perform better than non-balanced team”. Some studies show that having women in a workplace improves communication, organisation and team building.
What is it like to be a woman in construction?
Far from the nightmarish vision of being outlawed, ignored or constantly made fun of, plenty of women in construction in the UK have very positive experiences. Many of the women in the article linked above say that much of the stigma surrounding women in the construction industry is based on stereotypes that are completely wrong. They say that men in construction are great to work with if you have the banter, and that it is not the dirty job that people imagine. Women have been working alongside men for decades now so it’s very much the norm.
What about the gender pay gap?
There has been a poisonous rumour creeping like knotweed into social and mainstream media for years. The rumour has it that in Britain and North America, women are still paid less than men for doing the same hours in the same job. They aren’t. This has been illegal in the UK since 1970 and in the US since 1963 under their respective Equal Pay Acts. In construction, what does differ is the average earnings because there are fewer women than men in the industry and fewer in high-paying roles.
Sexism in construction
Sexism is a touchy subject. What some people consider outrageous sexism, others are more relaxed about. However, in the workplace these lines are less blurred. The Equality Act of 2010 outlaws discrimination based on many protected characteristics, including gender. Furthermore, company policies outline specific definitions of what they consider to be harassment or discrimination and the penalties for it.
Plenty of women in construction say that they have been discriminated against. However, the idea of there being rampant sexism in the construction industry may be grossly exaggerated. The (female) CEO of Easybuild Construction Software, Carol Massay, said, “I do believe you have to be thick-skinned to stand up and be counted. Yes, there is the banter that takes place, but I have seen more women be disrespected in some of the top chains of hotels and restaurants around London.” The same article states that around a third of women are put off construction by fears of sexism in the workplace, according to a study by RICS.
A big fear for women in construction is that they will not be taken seriously, or that men will want to look after them or even not want to take orders from them, should the woman be in a managerial position.
Faye Robinson points out that there is a far lower rate of women being promoted to managerial or supervisory roles in construction than there is in the profession. She suggests that to really achieve gender equality, we should remove first names from CVs to encourage selection based on merit alone. This would help to stop any prejudice against women and hiring women for the sake of box-ticking at the same time.
Awareness of the industry
To encourage more women into construction, more ought to be done about careers advice at school. For many women, by the time they are really aware of the opportunities in construction, engineering or IT, they have already completed a degree and cannot afford to retrain. Retraining not only costs a lot of money but also means another 3+ years of not being able to work full-time. For most people, this is simply not an option. Therefore, proper career guidance early on would benefit students and the construction industry.
For teenagers juggling exams and social pressure, it often doesn’t occur to them to put time into researching careers themselves. The information is out there, but it’s having the incentive and know-how to find it that can be the issue. It’s all too common to have a limited awareness of what you can do with your favourite subject at school. If schools and parents gave extra guidance or even encouragement to do the research, many more girls might choose construction or STEM career paths. This could also raise boys’ awareness of their options in more female-dominated professions, such as childcare, teaching and social services.
While there are usually very good drop-in careers offices in sixth-forms and universities, there should be more done before teenagers choose their A-Level and even GCSE subjects. The issue with this is that it requires funding, something that is already stretched. Many campaign groups give talks in schools about STEM subjects and why girls should be interested. This helps the cause enormously. However, if career guidance could be a bigger, even core, focus in PSHE, current funding could be used for the purpose.
What’s out there for women in construction?
Many young women see construction as limited to manual labour on a building site. With this view, it’s understandable that many would avoid it for fear of not being as physically strong as the men on site. However, construction is a large and ever-growing industry with a broad spectrum of job roles. There are construction roles in engineering, HR, sales, surveying, law, planning and management, to name a few.
How can women retrain to enter construction?
If you’re inspired to enter construction but cannot go back into full-time education, there are other options available.
Learning online is a fantastic way to fit your training around your day job. The College of Contract Management provides live online lectures. This means that you can ask your lecturer questions during the lecture, as you would in a traditional classroom. You can also use recordings of these lectures to catch up and revise. The College is accredited by various Chartered Institutes in the construction industry, including the CIOB, CICES and RICS.
Learning online also fits nicely around an apprenticeship or entry-level job in the industry. A lot of entry-level jobs are in offices and workshops, rather than on site.
This Advanced Diploma is a Level 5, therefore the vocational equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. It takes two years to complete using live online lectures. It can lead directly into a career in Quantity Surveying. Quantity Surveyors calculate the costs of a building project. It’s an ideal career path for anyone good with numbers and offers an average salary of £34,000 in return.
Another Level 5 Advanced Diploma, this live online programme also takes two years to complete. As with all our other programmes, experienced and qualified former Structural Engineers teach the course. These professionals will teach you how to predict how long a structure will remain intact. You’ll use maths, physics and geometry to factor in components such as weight, material, foundations and weather. It’s an incredibly important job that prevents disasters such as that of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, which made world headlines when it collapsed last year, killing 43 people.
Support for women in construction
There are several organisations in the UK devoted to mentoring, supporting and celebrating women in construction. Becoming a member of these allows you to meet other women in the industry and gain inspiration and knowledge. Not only this but together these women are working towards making positive changes in the industry. These are changes that you could be a part of.
Women into Construction
This group offer their members free advice and health and safety training. They can also help you to get a job through mentoring, work placements and ongoing support. They will guide you every step of the way in your journey to becoming a successful construction professional.
National Association of Women in Construction
With a range of levels of membership and different benefits for each, this organisation excels in accessibility. It holds events all over the UK where you can learn from presentations and network with other women in construction.
Women in Construction and Engineering Awards
Even more prestigious than being a woman in construction is being an award-winning woman in construction. Be inspired by their stories and dedication to the trade, one day you could be winning a WICE award yourself.