Don't just pay lip-service to diversity – women can offer real business benefits
Contrary to popular belief, women have a long and distinguished history within the construction industry. Medieval craft guilds included women, and four jobs in particular were popular with women – carpenter, shipwright, plasterer and plumber.

This is a far cry from the industry of today, in which women comprise just 1% of the workforce in trades and crafts roles. Even though the number of women in construction in general is gradually, almost imperceptibly, rising – from 8.8% of the workforce in 1999 to 9% in 2002 – this is a balance that needs to be redressed.

CITBConstructionSkills cites three key benefits that women can bring to your firm:

Solution to the skills crisis
In an industry with a massive skills shortage, requiring another 380,000 entrants over the next five years, it makes sense to appeal to the widest possible range of workers. Construction needs access to as wide a pool of talent as possible in order to recruit and develop a high-quality workforce that's motivated and skilled.

Demand for construction work is high, and with a strong wider economy there is already a lot of competition for talented workers. Many other industries have already realised the potential in non-traditional groups – just look at the recruiting campaigns for the police, the army, and teaching, to name but a few. Construction is missing out.

The purchasing-power factor
Women make 80% of purchasing decisions within the home, according to the Centre for Policy studies, an independent think tank. In an industry where domestic build and refurbishment work makes up 45% of the market, this adds up to significant purchasing power. Women are also taking up jobs in public sector client management positions in increasing numbers. So it makes sense to ensure your business appeals to those with their hands on the purse strings.

Client knows best
As Peter Lobban, CITBConstructionSkills chief executive, points out: "Having a local and diverse workforce is becoming a requirement of tenders for public sector contracts."

Paul McCray, community liaison officer at housebuilder Durkan, is a passionate advocate of increasing diversity in construction's workforce. Durkan currently employs 10 full-time female tradespeople and is also training a young female carpenter. It is well aware of the importance of "client power" – 95% of the company's clients are local authorities and housing associations and Durkan's diverse workforce is a real asset when bidding for contracts.

"We've found that the elderly and women with children in particular prefer to have women working in their homes," says McCray. "They feel that women are more approachable and their work is a lot cleaner. This is something local authorities are becoming increasingly aware of and are therefore keen to use companies that employ women."

Employing women is now formally part of Durkan's policy on training and recruitment and the company is a founder member of the CITB's Building Work For Women group. "We would recommend that women have a great deal of potential that should be utilised in an industry with a desperate skills shortage," McCray adds.

It's a slow process, but we might catch up with those medieval times yet.

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