construction industry

Gender diversity in construction: reviewing the response

It’s an issue that has dominated the headlines in recent years — gender discrimination is still rife in the workplace, through a lack of job opportunities, passed over promotions, and verbal comments. There is also a particular problem with gender diversity in the construction industry. Despite the industry struggling with a skilled workers shortage, the sector seems to be having a hard time shaking off its stereotypically ‘male’ dominated image. So, while it’s all well and good that the issue has been raised, the more important question is, what is being done about it?

To explore the issue further, access platforms supplier Nifty Lift return to the subject to compare their previous observations with the matter as it stands going into 2019…

Statistics reveal that one in five construction companies in the UK have no women at all in senior roles. Perhaps more worryingly, recent figures have delved into smaller construction companies with less than 50 employees. 62% of these smaller firms have no women on their board. This shows that while larger companies should perhaps be leading the way, smaller firms cannot be of the mindset that the issue doesn’t apply to them.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of women making up the minority of construction workers at present — the ones who are currently in the industry are, sadly, facing gender discrimination at work. In 2005, 66% of women reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace, a number which grew to 74% in 2015. In 2018, 73% of women noted they felt they had been side-lined for projects due to their gender.

Perhaps more interestingly, in 2016, 68% of women said they weren’t aware of any initiatives in the workplace to support their progression to senior roles. But in 2018, 74% said they didn’t know of any initiatives for the same aim.

The construction industry is seeing some slow improvement in terms of senior roles for female staff. In 2005, there were only 6% of women in senior roles in the UK’s construction industry. By 2010, this figure had grown to 12.5%. Then, in 2015, this had improved once again to 16%, but of course, the figure was still comparatively low. The current statistic, as of 2018, is that 20% of senior roles in the construction industry are filled by women.

Naturally, the problem extends to not only getting women into the construction industry; we also need to give female construction workers incentive to remain in the sector. If there are little to no career prospects, or an obvious tilt towards men when it comes to promotion opportunities, as well as a discrepancy of pay, of course women will look for work elsewhere. Frustratingly, women in construction are paid an average of 14% less than their male co-workers. There are limited senior roles and opportunities being offered to women, and for the few that are available, the reward is an average 22% less pay than men in senior roles.

Further to this, in 2016, 46% of women noted that they felt excluded in conversations and social events, due to the perceived male-orientated focus of the construction industry. This figure has since exploded to 80% of women, as of 2018. Could this increase reflect the growing awareness that this treatment is not, and should not, be considered ‘normal’ for women in the industry?

That’s not to say that we haven’t seen some progress being made to address the gap. The government has been pushing for a general increase in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subject uptake in education. A small increase was noted for women taking STEM-based apprenticeships, with 2017 figures showing a 6% rise on those recorded in 2016.

The numbers certainly seem to suggest that while we’re more aware of the problem, it is too early to see the effects of any response to close the gap. It is expected that by 2020, the UK construction workforce will be made up of just over 25% female workers. This figure could potentially be improved upon if more action is taken to address a problem that we are all very much aware of now.



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