Out of nearly 2.3 million people employed in the construction industry, less than 13% are female and men earn on average £11,000 more than women in similar roles. Given that scenario, it is perhaps not surprising that only a small minority of young women would consider a career in the industry.
Participants at a recent round table, titled Women in Construction, held in the borough of Waltham Forest included representatives from Waltham Forest LBC, school and college leaders, industry executives and senior officers of professional bodies as well as the event’s sponsor, the NPS Group, which delivers social infrastructure projects through joint ventures with local authorities and other public sector bodies.
In a discussion covering a wide range of issues, the first topic for consideration was what part education and training might play in overcoming the problem of women’s under-representation. Attention focused on the stereotypical ways boys and girls are encouraged to see their roles.
‘The first stumbling block we have is getting girls to open their eyes to what they can do,’ the participant said. ‘We have to challenge their expectations.’
Several of those round the table commented on the role of careers advice, saying the reason girls often do not consider the building trade is because it has never been suggested to them. It was generally agreed that it is vital for work experience opportunities in construction to be offered to girls so that they can see for themselves what is involved.
Another potential barrier to girls and women entering the construction was the way apprenticeships are set up. They tend to be full-time and this makes them more restrictive. By not allowing for part-time and flexible working, many women, especially if they are caring for children, are effectively barred.
We need, it was suggested, to find out from women themselves why most of them do not consider a career in construction. Was it because it is seen as male-dominated, or because it is thought to be not flexible enough for family life?
‘We need to talk to women to find out what the barriers are and whether they are real or perceived,’ one participant suggested. ‘We need to talk to women who have worked in construction but then decided to do something else.’
Concluding the discussion, the group agreed on an action plan to help tackle some of the challenges identified at the round table event:
l Education and training: Women and girls often do not have enough information about career opportunities that are available to them. The industry needs to raise awareness of the wide range of careers available among young people, parents and teachers, as well as informing them of the technical skills involved in the sector. Action: Establish a network of local volunteers to visit schools and colleges, contact local schools and offer help (future events, schemes), team up with national mentoring programmes, encourage local businesses to engage more with young people and offer work placements (through procurement incentives).
l Recruitment and employment: Construction is not always seen as an attractive workplace for women. As an industry it can be seen as old-fashioned, low tech, with little job security and career progression. More needs to be done to promote the positive impact women have in construction and encourage other women to pursue and apply for roles. Action: Create a prototype to disrupt the perception of the construction industry
Use a local project to demonstrate how many women were involved and what their roles were. Use the London Borough of Culture Award to highlight how the industry can support diverse communities through creative design and building work.
l Industry retention and career progression: Lack of modern working arrangements is creating problems for women with caring responsibilities or disabilities. Construction firms should offer flexible working policies, more family friendly environments and a commitment to supporting women who wish to go into management. Action: Set up a lobbying group. Write to local MPs about statutory maternity pay and how this compares to other sectors and the impact this is having on retention. Contact the Mayor of London to stress urgency at a national level (must act now and tackle inequality at a time of high recruitment and skill shortages) Highlight the issues/barriers for women, why this causes them to leave the industry and what can be done about it (using data from professional bodies).
NPS Group Comment
An action plan has since been drawn up to deliver some of the answers to the lack of women in construction.
Marina Robertson, director of operations for the NPS Group said: ‘After the round table event, a letter was sent to all participants setting out the actions we agreed and asking for leads to champion them. As a result, further meetings between participants have started to take shape to move the action plan forward such as exploring the idea of using the Construction Skills Academy located in Leyton, Waltham Forest as the venue for future meetings and “home” of this developmental work.
‘We hope that this and our action plan will form the base of a long-term campaign that will make a real impact and recast how we can encourage women into the industry, making a difference locally. In the meantime, we have been in touch with charities and youth trusts who offer community-based learning programmes and education partnerships to engage girls into the world of construction.’
Round table attendees
Cllr Clare Coghill – Leader, Waltham Forest LBC
Maxine Smith – Deputy headteacher, Waltham Forest College
Lucy Shomali – Director, regeneration and growth, Waltham Forest LBC
Marian Asare-Bopaeh – Owner of Rabmaris Ltd
Meryl Davies – Headteacher, Walthamstow School for Girls
Rebecca Davey – Head of employment and skills, Waltham Forest LBC
Jan Gill – Senior manager, Brent LBC
Tina Salmon – General manager, Mitre Construction
Amy Leader – Chair, RICS Matrics
Claire Holmes – Group director, HR, NPS Group
Dorrian O’Neill – Business development consultant, NPS Group
Donna Owen – National sales manager (previous recruitment lead), NPS Group
Marina Robertson – Operations director, NPS London
Elizabeth Eyre (chair) – Editor, Builders’ Merchants News