For those of us about to embark upon our first career, as well anyone considering a change of occupation, these are uncertain times. Traditional thinking as regards a future in business or industry has been turned on its head of late and many traditional, or what could be termed safe, options are not looking too bright. Perhaps now more than any other time may be a perfect moment to stop and think about the alternatives?
More women than ever are now looking towards the construction industry when deciding upon a career and the opportunities are certainly there. However, has the industry woken up to this or is it stuck in the past?
Despite all the recent doom and gloom regarding the future of the economy there still remains a chronic skills shortage in the construction industry at virtually every level. One way of filling this skills gap is by encouraging more women to consider construction as a realistic career option and, although much has been done of late to achieve this, we still have a long way to go.
The industry is crying out for young talent and attracting more women into the industry can only be a positive move. Achieving this though will be difficult. Much more needs to be done if construction is ever going to achieve the same levels of female participation that other sectors in the economy, such as medicine and finance, have enjoyed previously?
A brief review of the various reports on this subject in the last few years makes somewhat depressing reading:
Hill McGlynn, the recruitment company, surveyed 3,000 clients and female candidates in order to gauge opinions on whether the gender gap was decreasing.
Just over half of employers surveyed reported that they have actively changed working practices in order to accommodate female employees, although most respondents said that they had no specific focus on recruiting more women. Asked what they considered were deterring women from entering the construction industry, poor working conditions, a male dominated environment and un-child friendly working practices were cited as the main reasons.
When asked what had attracted them to the construction industry, most candidates mentioned a real interest in building and engineering and the desire to ‘do something different’. Over 60% of women questioned said there was definite sexism within the industry and just under half said they would eventually leave if their employer’s failed to offer flexible working should they have families at a later date.
The report concluded that there was a real deterrent to women considering a career in construction and that employers must do more to make the industry more female friendly if they are to benefit from a more diverse workforce.
The Chartered Institute of Building (The Changing Role of Women in the Construction Workforce) looked at the problem of recruiting women into the industry. The report raised serious concerns about the future of construction in the UK if it did not do more to attract and retain more female staff.
RICS (Raising the Ration) highlighted the issue in its findings that the surveying profession is losing many of its women to more family orientated roles such as teaching or into administration. The myth that most women leave to have families is found to be untrue. In fact, where this occurred, most women actually wanted to return to work but found inflexibile working hours made this difficult and around 20% left because of lack of opportunities within the industry for women.
RICS (Bridging the Gender Gap) Just 15% of practising RICS members are female and although the number of female students is on the increase, the Institute recognises they have a long way to go to match other sectors such as medicine where the male to female ratio is near 50:50. Part of the problem seems to be connected with the image of construction that is presented to us at an early age.
Furthermore, another factor is the number of women who are leaving the profession mid-career to have families. On returning to work there are significant barriers which need to be addressed.
Cathy Stewart in the RICS Construction Journal (Where are the Women?) highlighted the lack of progress over the last 20 years. In 1987 14.13% of the construction workforce were female and in 2007 this figure had risen to just 14.25%.
She called for more action which should begin in schools by making girls aware of the opportunities available and follow through to higher education. Again, more family friendly working patterns and provision for women to return to work was seen as a major requirement?
Many Voices – One Theme
It would seem that ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ is an apt description, yet so little has changed? Construction is still seen as a predominantly male environment, unsympathetic to the needs of women and notoriously slow to accept new ideas and ways of working.
Perhaps now, more than ever, is an ideal time to stand back and take stock? The way the industry has progressed on this issue in the last 20 years is hardly revolutionary. But if attitudes and conditions do not change then there is only one way this industry is going to go?