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Construction skills shortage: Could tackling gender diversity issues provide the answer?

female construction worker

Did you know that one in five UK construction businesses have no women in senior roles? Facts such as this have driven some commentators to state that there is ‘a prejudice’ against female workers in the sector, but what is the real situation and is there still hope for better gender diversity in construction?

Current situation

Research suggests that the drive towards equality for all is more successful in some sectors than others. According to Construction News, 50% of all construction firms claim they have never had a female manager.

What is even more striking is that, when asking the women who did work within the industry, 48% claimed they had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, with the most common example of this (28%) being inappropriate comments or behaviour from male colleagues. These are figures that prove that the industry still needs to enforce more regulations to change attitudes towards women in the industry and encourage equality.

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What about pay? Is there a difference in how much women earn compared to men in construction? Nearly half of construction companies (42%) do not monitor equal pay between gender in the business and 68% were not aware of any initiatives to support women transitioning into senior roles. Furthermore, according to Randstad, 79% of men believe they earn the same as their female colleagues in the same position. However, 41% of women disagree — highlighting the need for better pay transparency within the industry to dispel perceptions that men are earning more.

In the future

Construction is a very male-dominated industry. Regarding on-site construction, data shows that 99% of roles are filled by men. Despite the figures, 93% of construction workers believe having a female boss would not affect their jobs, or would in fact have a positive effect by improving the working environment.

But how about in the years to come? According to Randstad, female employees are anticipated to constitute just over 25% of the UK’s construction workforce by 2020. But, could employing more women not help the sector ease the pressure on its low workforce numbers? With the industry raising concerns that it is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, 82% of people working in construction agree that there is a serious skills shortage. If demand is expected to require an additional million extra workers by 2020, women could account for a significant portion of that — especially in senior roles, which have previously been bias towards their male colleagues.

However, research into gender diversity in construction isn’t all negative. In 2005, there were just 6% of women in senior roles within the UK’s construction industry. However, fast forward to 2015, and this number rose to 16%. Plus, it’s expected to continue to go up as we approach 2020.

How about promotions for female workers? Back in 2005, 79% of women in the industry were dissatisfied with the progression of their careers. However, in 2015, this number more than halved to just 29%. Some of this progression was even attributed to the fact that almost half of women in the industry (49%) believe their employer to be very supportive of women in construction.

Unfortunately, the sector is still far behind reaching optimum gender diversity. Ranstad also reports that there remains a tendency within the industry to exclude women from male conversations or social events, with 46% of females experiencing being sidelined. A further 28% said they had been offered a less important role and 25% reported being passed over for promotion.

However, more than three quarters of female workers claimed that they would recommend a job in construction to a female friend, daughter or niece — clearly, women within the industry are generally positive about their positions. With a 60% increase in the average annual salary for women in the construction sector in the past decade from £24,500 in 2005 to £39,200 in 2015, there is no denying that progress is being made to combat gender inequality. But, there’s still a long way to go. Hopefully, by 2020, we can report further positive developments, making roles more attractive to females and providing a solution to the lack of skilled workers in the industry right now.

By Louise Richardson, Copywriter, Niftylifts

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