In response to your recent editorial about encouraging young women into the construction industry I must ask, why?
During the 1980s, myself and other women working in building trades and professions gave talks and taster sessions to young women in schools and youth groups to encourage them to consider construction as a career.
Then we started discussing the issues with each other. All of us were suffering discrimination at work and lower pay, despite being better qualified than male colleagues. We decided against continuing to try to persuade girls to follow in our footsteps.
Little has changed. Your leader column (5 November, page 3) confirms the pay gap, which I, too, continue to experience. I’m not against any woman entering construction if she is determined that it is what she wants to do, as I was in the 1970s. But awareness-raising initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women at a time of labour shortages are unlikely to benefit the women themselves, who are likely to have better career chances elsewhere.
The construction industry must treat women currently employed fairly before trying to attract more. This means enormous cultural change, and an elimination of the pay gap, and can only be addressed by the industry itself, not by schools.
A historical perspective: during the First World War there was a severe shortage of men available to work in construction, so women were trained. The archive of the Imperial War Museum has photos of women working in various building trades. However, after the war they were not allowed to continue, as men wanted their jobs back. The same pattern was repeated in the Second World War. Again, we have labour shortages in construction, and initiatives to attract women. Can women entering the industry now be sure they will be able to prosper when there is a surplus of labour?
Helen Sanders, chartered building surveyor