What is the status of women in construction in 2022? When you picture male-dominated industries, construction is one of the first that comes to mind. Although female workers are now more common, both on the construction site and in the offices of construction companies, there is still an enormous gender gap. In this article, we will take a closer look at the current status of women in the industry. We’ll also examine how companies can benefit from employing more women and what can be done to support and promote women in construction.
Women in Construction: Statistics and Trends
According to the U.S. Labor Force 2020 Statistics, women comprise only 10.9% of all construction workers. In Europe, the situation is similar. In Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, around 9% of construction workers are women. These figures are largely made up of women in administrative and office positions. Only a small number of them are working on construction sites. In the UK, the percentage of women in construction is slightly higher at 14%. This gender gap can be explained by a variety of factors, ranging from unconscious gender bias and a lack of sufficient training to general perceptions of women working in construction.
Trade jobs are the least popular among women. They remain men-dominated, and here are some of the reasons behind this attitude:
- Lack of information. If young women and girls are not aware of the possibility of a trade career, they won’t have the chance to pursue it.
- Poor access and lack of apprenticeship promotion. Most apprenticeship programs are held by young men. In Europe, the average percentage of female apprentices in vocational education training comprises only 1-2%.
- Lack of design and technology classes in most schools due to tight budgets. Places that still have shop classes don’t encourage girls to participate.
- Biased attitude to trade jobs. Society’s prejudices limit women’s access to trades training and promotions.
Unfortunately, the number of women in construction decreased in the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of lockdowns and social distancing measures the 2020 global crisis has transformed into a “she-cession” in almost all career fields, including construction. For example, in Spain, women comprised only 8.2% of the sector in 2020 compared to 8.9% a year before. The number of women being trained in construction skills also decreased by 5.9% from 2019 to 2020. A similar pattern is visible in the USA: the NKBA’s (National Kitchen & Bath Association) research has found that male employment in the construction sector decreased by 8.7% between February and June 2020, about two percentage points less than female employment, which fell by 10.5% during the same period.
What’s the trend of women joining construction?
Based on data received from respondents in the United States, Germany, and Singapore, Reichelt, Makovi, and Sargsyan (2020) confirmed that the loss of jobs, decreases in working hours, and transitions to WFH (Work from Home) were more common for women than men during the pandemic. There are several factors behind these trends. First, women were more likely to face additional childcare burdens during lockdowns, forcing them to leave work or go on indefinite leave. Furthermore, administrative and support positions, mostly occupied by women, were often the first to be eliminated at many construction companies.
However, it’s not all bad news. Despite current barriers, women continue to make waves in the construction industry. With construction projects expected to stabilize and return to growth throughout 2022, there is a demand for new jobs in the industry. Employment in the construction sphere is expected to rise by over 2 million in 2022 in the US alone.
A valuable indicator of the growth of women in the construction industry is the fact that the UK’s Chartered Institute of Building’s boards and committees have included more women over recent years. For example, the CIOB’s Novus network (young professionals) in Manchester is formed of an all-female committee. In addition, 37% of new entrants to the UK construction industry from higher education are women, a trend that will hopefully lead to more balanced gender proportions in the future.
How Hiring Women Can Move the Construction Industry Ahead
The labour shortage, combined with the world’s continued need for infrastructure, housing, and other construction projects, means that now is the right time for women to fulfil their potential and thrive in careers across the construction field. Why is there a deficit of people engaged in physical labour? Simply put, it’s because fewer individuals are opting to learn disciplines such as carpentry, plumbing or masonry. These skills are the construction industry’s backbone. There are numerous reasons for this, including long-standing negative perceptions about construction workers as well as the new drive for young people to attend colleges and obtain a four-year degree. However, the overall talent pool shortage is not the only reason why employers should think about attracting more women to construction.
Here are some more:
According to a study by Letian Zhang, a professor at Harvard Business School, companies with a mixed workforce are more efficient, innovative, and have a better working atmosphere. However, this is only true when gender diversity is viewed as “normatively” accepted in a particular society or industry. Thus, in the countries and industries that view gender diversity as an essential element of any business, female managers and employees provide more benefits and are better able to bring new ideas and perspectives. Gender-inclusive construction teams provide a variety of opinions enabling companies to better fulfil the needs of clients.
According to recent studies, increasing gender diversity, particularly having women in C-suite roles (chief executive officer, chief operating officer, and so on), can improve profitability in construction companies. Moreover, McKinsey & Company research has confirmed that firms with diverse executive teams that include women, were 21% more likely to be more successful than the average ones.
Female leaders play a critical role in removing the barriers that other women encounter in the construction industry. Moreover, successful women in the construction business play an important role in motivating a new generation of construction leaders. In this way, young women will see that construction is not just for boys.
In spite of stereotypes and wear and tear of trade jobs, those women who choose this career path, really enjoy it. Thanks to the growth of women in this field, the construction environment becomes more diverse, safe, and supportive for all employees, leading to changes in the workplace. For instance, with more women on the construction site, manufacturers start to make PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for different types of bodies and sizes to keep all workers safe. These small steps make the difference, gradually changing existing attitudes and recruiting more women into trades.
Improve Company Image
Given the construction industry’s poor public image, better gender diversity on boards can improve a company’s image in the eyes of the public and investors. This, in turn, can lead to increased sales and market success.
The ability to achieve gender parity in the construction business partially depends on the women who have already made their names within this industry. Their success stories are the greatest motivators for female colleagues encouraging them to develop in their professions. This is why construction networking events, such as the Women in Construction Summit, are so important. A lot of successful women in construction, such as Anna Jacobson, Kelly Vincent, Claire Gott, and Kayla Gervais, started their own peer mentoring programs to help other women find their way in the construction sector.
Why the Construction Sector is Attractive for Women
There are several advantages for women who take the step into the construction sector:
- Due to a shortage of skilled workers, there is fierce competition among companies in the sector for qualified candidates.
- Construction offers opportunities for very diverse roles. While images of construction focus on builders, plasterers, or electricians, many other jobs such as contracts or projects managers are available. Moreover, due to automation and a higher standard of equipment on-site, women can do more labour-intensive tasks that were once male-dominated roles.
- Competitive salaries. In almost every industry, there is a pay gap between men and women. In the United States, women earn on average 80 cents for every dollar earned by males. However, in the construction sector, the difference is smaller. Women in construction earn 99.1 cents for every dollar earned by men.
- Availability of scholarships for students interested in the residential construction industry. For example, the Home Builders Care Foundation offers local trade scholarships to both high school and post-secondary students. Trade unions are one of the largest scholarship providers in this sector. Additionally, a lot of scholarship opportunities are provided by for-profit and non-profit organisations.
Hurdles Still Remain
Despite the positive dynamics, there are still relatively few women on the construction site in 2022. Construction companies mention the following reasons for this state of affairs:
- Stereotypes and clichés remain widespread. Construction work is believed to be dirty and physically demanding. Many women never even consider working in the construction industry. Some of them may feel out of place in a working environment that has traditionally been dominated by men.
- 73% of female construction workers believe they are being passed over for jobs because of their gender. In addition, gender-based harassment is reported by 60% of women across the industry. These negative stories hurt the reputation of the industry.
- It can be difficult to combine family life and construction projects. Construction roles can require low travel or inflexible working hours. As a result, women in construction often quit after their first child or look for a job in more family-friendly companies.
Recruit and Retain More Women in Construction: What Can Be Done
When it comes to choosing a job, women often strive for the same things that men do: a decent wage, flexible benefits, and opportunities for career growth. There are, however, a number of particular things companies can do to enhance the recruitment and retention of women. Here are several steps that can be taken to empower women in construction:
1. Get them interested at a young age
- Interest in the construction business should be instilled at school by organizing child and youth-friendly tours to construction sites, construction companies, or craft industries.
- Targeted days of action and different thematic events like Girls’ Day can give young females insights into technical occupational fields.
- There is a need for targeted communication, including media, that addresses women interested in construction.
- School graduates can gain an insight into how to work on the construction site through trial weeks or undertaking work experience on-site. Such experience helps them to understand that construction work is not always dirty or exhausting, but offers other possibilities.
- Women can benefit from pre-apprenticeship programs that offer the fundamental skills, support networks, and knowledge base they need to thrive in an apprenticeship.
2. Ensure inclusive recruitment & working environments
- In job ads, recruiters should avoid using gendered language. Despite the fact that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender, many construction job advertisements contain subtle phrases that, sometimes unintentionally, exclude a particular gender.
- Construction companies need to understand how their women employees’ needs might differ from men’s. Company day-care centres, kindergartens, parent-child offices, and other in-house initiatives providing maternity opportunities and gender equality can be helpful.
- Establishing a network of support and promotion opportunities at all levels, not just during the hiring process, is crucial. To retain women in the construction field, it is critical to provide good mentors. They also need access to resources throughout their careers and chances for growth.
- Employees must be treated equally. This may sound apparent, yet many construction businesses fail to ensure that their employees are treated fairly, regardless of gender. According to the Smith Institute’s research on women in construction (UCATT members, members of other unions, and non-union members), 51% claimed they were treated unfairly at work because of their gender. The top three problems they cited were a lack of promotion opportunities, lower pay for the same work compared to their men counterparts, and feelings of isolation. To support gender parity, construction companies can start small. For example, they can guarantee the same working conditions, provide both male and female bathrooms on site, and offer safety equipment that fits properly for both men and women.
3. Highlight the existing female role models
- The entire industry has to step up efforts and consciously promote female presence in leadership positions and in the construction field in general. Partnerships with national groups such as Professional Women in Construction and the National Association of Women in Construction can demonstrate a company’s commitment to gender diversity.
- Women can try to find male advocates: invite male colleagues to coffee, schedule a call or a meeting to share their experiences as a woman in the business or company. While it’s important for women in the C-Suite to support women, support also needs to come from the men leaders. Changes begin at the top. CEOs establish, convey, and ensure the company’s values. If a company’s fundamental objective is to empower women via diversity, inclusion, and culture, the CEO will show a visible commitment to this goal, as well as a zero-tolerance harassment policy.
Here are quotes from successful women in construction, displaying their views on the industry:
“Once I was qualified and competent I wanted to reach out to other women to show them how much fun it was and demonstrate that females can be successful tradespeople too.” – Kelly Vincent, Female Electrician, London
“I strongly believe that it is our responsibility, as practising engineers, to engage with the younger generation and equip them with the skills to successfully meet the challenges of tomorrow. We have a fantastic sector full of inspirational projects and opportunities, we just need to make sure we are telling people about it.” – Claire Gott, UK Head of Industry at WSP in the UK
“As more women join construction, the diversity of viewpoints helps to move the industry forward and push these boundaries. While women are slowly seeing construction as a viable career option, both in the field and office, attracting and retaining women in the industry remains a challenge.” – Kayla Gervais, Project Coordinator at Bockstael Construction Limited, BTech (Const Mgmt), CET Assoc., CM-Lean
While the percentage of women working in construction is low, the good news is that companies and educators in several nations are making efforts to show women that the construction field has a lot to offer. There are also increasing numbers of women joining the industry from higher education, though this still leaves a gap in trade occupations. By working together to increase awareness and ensure that construction sites are welcoming to women, construction companies can help reduce the gender gap in construction. Though the changes are slow, they are steady. We’re optimistic that we will see the results arrive over the coming decade.
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