Women in Construction Week should prompt us all to think about how the industry can discard outdated stereotypes

Paula Broadbent

This week is “Women in Construction Week”, which seems a good time to reflect upon the fact that construction sector is still dominated by men - who make up 89% of the industry. The major misconception however, is that this is a result of women not being welcome in the field.

As a woman who has worked in the industry for eight years, my experience is that this isn’t the case. You’ll be hard pressed to find a woman working in construction that feels any different; but the difficulty ultimately lies in getting us through the door.

Construction firms recognise the value that women bring to their business and the industry is now starting to recognise the significance in diversity. Where it is failing, is in dispelling perceptions and inspiring women to break the mould; while grasping the opportunities that this exciting sector has to offer.

Career selection is often determined between the ages of 16-25 and so this is who Keepmoat spoke with for a recent research campaign and the results were surprising.

Of those interviewed, just 13% of women said they would consider a career in construction

Of those interviewed, just 13% of women said they would consider a career in construction, compared with 21% of men. When quizzed why this isn’t a path they would pursue, half of females said the high proportion of men in the business makes it intimidating; while 46% listed the limitations for women to progress as the key driver behind that decision.

One of the more concerning findings was that nearly a third of women think that roles are limited to on-site work; while a further 30% viewed the field as “strenuous”.

It’s 2017 and the connotations of construction are still sadly hard hats and site work; so it’s no wonder our industry is battling a looming skills crisis.

One of the best things to come from the research is that we provided participants with insight into the varied roles available, as well as the significant proportion of female managers and directors. Upon hearing of the opportunities, 45% of females said they would now be interested in pursuing a career in construction.

This underpins the desperate need for the industry to come together and have a more proactive approach towards employment and training. In one short survey, misplaced beliefs were overturned and a significant number of young women were alerted to a career filled with prospects and progression.

It goes to show that we aren’t doing enough to generate interest in the field and housing and construction companies will need to explore other avenues of engaging with schools and colleges to prevent further stereotypes.

One of Keepmoat’s most successful initiatives is the Kickstart scheme. The programme can be tailored to meet a specific regional or community need and supports NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) candidates to consider a career in construction and provide them with the tools to join. We also host ‘women only’ Kickstart programmes which have been a big success and would support with that fear of ‘too many men’ we identified from the research.

These dedicated programmes, coupled with our partnerships in education; have also buoyed our apprentice retention rates, which have increased from 75% to 98%. Vitally, the business has also been able to employ a more diverse workforce through these means, with 27% being female compared with the industry norm of 9% amongst contractors. It’s a good start, but we still have a long way to go.

The state of our nation’s housing is unacceptable - or broken as the recent government whitepaper highlighted - but so is the nature of the workforce. We have a responsibility to encourage and employ the industry’s next generation of leaders and we need to illustrate to young women the value they bring to the industry; by demonstrating how rewarding a career in construction can be. This will result in a more balanced workforce focused on innovation and developing solutions to address the housing crisis which directly affects their future.

By addressing the skills and gender crisis, only then, will we be able to meet the country’s housing needs and place the industry in far better shape for the future.

Paula Broadbent, retirement solutions director at Keepmoat