5 Reasons Why UK Construction Needs More Women

Is your company one of the 82% of construction businesses that told Randstad they “struggle to find skilled workers”? Do you agree with the 72% of construction companies that said “there is a mismatch between capacity and availability for work”? If so, here are five reasons you need to increase the diversity of your workforce – and some suggestions on how to do it.

1. Diversity increases productivity
Employing more women in construction is not simply a matter of equality or social necessity. Diversity also makes good business sense, as Dawn Bonfield, CEO of the Women’s Engineering Society, made clear in her “Disruptive Diversity” report for the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Dawn says:

“Lack of diversity costs the industry money in terms of lack of skills, productivity, staff safety and morale, innovation, profit and creativity.”

2. Diversity improves health & safety
Failure to employ a more diverse workforce is bad for health and safety, argues Louise Ward, Policy and Standards Director at the British Safety Council, a nationally respected provider of health and safety training and qualifications:

Louise states:

“The construction industry’s male dominated environment has tended to breed a macho culture that encourages people to take risks. It has also contributed to promoting a negative perception of health and safety that was often identified with excessive regulation and barriers to progress and creative thinking. Welcoming more women into the construction industry will bring fresh perspectives and a healthier balance to prevailing attitudes that will benefit everyone employed in the sector.”

3. Diversity makes recruitment and retention easier
Women make up half the UK population but only 11.7% of the construction workforce – and less than 2% of people working in skilled manual trades. Worse still, Office of National Statistics data shows that the number of women in construction fell 16% over 10 years, from 315,000 in 2006 to 265,000 in the first quarter of 2016 (the number of men fell just 4.2%). That’s an incredible waste of talent in an industry that according to the CITB struggles to find people with key personal skills, such as the right attitude, motivation and common sense.

According to Owen Goodhead, MD of Randstad’s Construction, Property and Engineering division, employing more women can “strengthen your brand” by improving your reputation for equality. That in turn can make hiring and retaining talent easier. Something that will become increasingly important as the construction sector is set to create “a million new jobs by 2020.”

4. Diversity strengthens teams
Despite many improvements over the years, a survey by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians still found sexist harassment and bullying in the construction industry. Of the women interviewed, 51% said they were treated worse at work simply because of their gender. While 40% of respondents said bullying and harassment by managers was a problem.
Overall, the survey identified three main problems for women: poor promotion prospects, lower pay than male colleagues, and feelings of isolation.

Yet Amaia Harries, an engineer at the construction consultancy BRE, is one of many who argue that employing more women can improve the working environment.

“Women bring a different approach to many issues. A balance of genders and cultures provides more dynamic and well-rounded teams.”

5. Diversity increases creativity
As well as improving employee behaviour, women bring skills, talents and experiences to businesses that can make teams more collaborative and creative. Teams that can draw on different perspectives generate not just more but better ideas. This improves the ability of businesses to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world and marketplace.

The built environment needs to reflect the diversity of its users. For instance, having technicians, civil engineers, planners, designers and architects who understand the different needs of different people could lead to better design and build.

As architect and founder of the Equilibrium Network, Caroline Cole, says, diversity is:

“not just about helping women but helping business to do better.” Not least because studies from other sectors show that diversity “has a positive effect on the bottom line.”

How can you give your daughter a brighter future in construction?

According to Women in Science and Engineering, women completed just 2% (130) of the Construction, Planning & the Built Environment apprenticeships available in 2013/14. Men also dominated the Architecture, Building & Planning degrees in 2014, achieving 70% of them. While the universities admission service UCAS said there were just 785 women on civil engineering degree courses in 2014, compared to 3,385 men.

It’s no wonder that the engineering and construction sectors still struggle to get the proportion of women engineers above one in ten. Construction companies committed to supporting diversity need to encourage more young women to study these important subjects. One way they can help is by championing schemes that try to change perceptions about the industry.

For instance, Building Girls Up aims to encourage more young women to consider a career in construction by coordinating workshops for 140,000 of them aged 16-18. Participants will meet industry role models and potential employers, as well as finding out about support schemes such as the Prince’s Trust. Above all, the scheme aims to tackle the idea – ingrained so early in girl’s lives – that women aren’t physically strong enough or good enough to work in construction. It’s simply not true.

Construction companies also need to do more to champion role models, such as architect Holly Porter. She set up Chicks With Bricks, a networking group for female construction workers, to do just that.

More young women – and construction managers – need to hear Holly’s message:

“You don’t have to act like a man to succeed in construction.”

According to the National Association of Women in Construction:

“careers with a strong sense of purpose tend to attract a larger representation of young female workers.” Construction companies that want to attract a new generation of talented employees need to sell the idea of purpose to recruits, showing them where a career in construction can lead and how rewarding it can be in ways other than just financial. If they’re serious about attracting female talent, it’s essential to demonstrate their commitment to equality and diversity, which they can do by providing greater access to training, education and employment opportunities.

Posted: Tue 05 Jul 2016
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