I was interested, but not surprised, to read a recent report produced by CareerStructure.com into female employment within the construction sector. They found, for over half of the built environment professionals surveyed, that less than 10% of their team are currently female. This is yet another confirmation that the construction industry still has a long way to go before proving its credentials in equality.
The concern of the 400+ construction professionals surveyed is so great that more than half of them believe that a quota should be introduced to ensure that companies within the industry do employ a certain number of women in their workforce, never mind at board level. The use of quotas is backed by extensive research into gender imbalanced teams, which reinforce the importance of having a diverse work force of both men and women. In addition, where women are employed in the construction sector, they tend to have HR, Marketing, Admin and occasionally Finance roles.
Despite the concerns over the lack of women in construction, only 26% believed there was no barrier to entry for women seeking a career in the sector. Having worked in primarily male dominated sectors for most of my career, first as a research chemist and then entering construction, I personally have never regarded gender as a barrier to career progression and neither did Margaret Thatcher! In fact there have been many plusses to being female. Bright colours do make you stand out from the dark-suited crowd!
However, I think that the industry could attract greater numbers of women through several propositions. For instance, promoting construction at schools as a fantastic sector to work in with opportunities to travel, work overseas and design buildings should be highlighted over the ubiquitous bricklayer image. Construction needs to be seen as a career of choice for students if it is to compete with other, more glamorous sectors to ensure it gets its fair share of talent.
I whole-heartedly agree with Rob Searle, Commercial Director of CareerStructure.com, who when commenting on the survey said: "The under representation of women in the built environment has long been an issue - women simply aren't being engaged by the industry, and as result, it is losing out on talent to other industries. What's more, it's generally recognised that gender balanced teams lead to greater productivity and better decision making. With construction output just starting to increase, the industry should be doing all it can to ensure the sector is in a position to sustain growth. Investing in talent is a fundamental place to start."
Recognition of female talent has been assisted by numerous award ceremonies, such as the First Women Awards - supported by COINS - where we introduced the Women in the Built Environment category last year. Such award programmes celebrate achievement and promote opportunities within the industry to potential new talent. I feel that it is the overall industry's responsibility to build upon the success of women and encourage more females into construction roles.
The First Women Awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.