Ever fancied yourself as a builder? Kelly Friel is a Product Manager with industrial tool supplier Zoro. Here, she discusses why it’s time more women were encouraged into the construction sector, and what employers can do to help attract female talent.

According to the latest figures from WISE, the sector is almost entirely dominated by men, with just 11% of roles taken by women. And, that doesn’t take into account the sort of work that women are doing in these roles, many of which are likely to be secretarial or administrative, rather than actually out on site. The Guardian even estimates that as many as 99% of on-site workers are men, making construction one of the most heavily male-dominated industries out there.

With a nationwide shortage of skilled construction workers and tradespeople set to get even worse after Brexit, employers are starting to wake up to the fact that we desperately need more women to join the industry. So, just what can be done to make construction roles more appealing to women? Here, I’ll discuss what employers, site managers and educators can do to bring about a change.

Employers need to embrace inclusive policies

One thing which is sure to put women off a job in construction is the fear that they won’t be accepted by their colleagues on site, or that they could even be subject to harassment or discrimination. No one should face this treatment at work, and it’s not just a matter of telling women to “toughen up” or accept that it’s “part of the job”. Employers and site managers need to commit to changing the workplace culture which makes such behaviour acceptable.

Workplace policies need to outline what is and isn’t acceptable during working hours, and all staff should be fully trained on how they can create an inclusive workplace culture. Every site also needs to have reporting system in place, so that women can be confident that their concerns will be listened to and addressed. This is already standard practice for most other sectors, so there’s really no reason it shouldn’t be the same for construction. 

Employers should offer equal access to facilities and equipment

Another key concern is providing equal access to on-site facilities and equipment, which is sadly often overlooked when hiring women. For instance, many sites don’t even have female changing rooms or toilets, because there are rarely ever women on site. Likewise, the majority of safety equipment and construction wear — like hard hats, hi-vis wear, boots and gloves — is designed for men. So, employers need to ensure that they have ample facilities and equipment for women before they welcome them to the site.

Raising the profile of women in the industry

It’s much easier for women to imagine themselves in a role if they can see others like themselves are already succeeding. So, the industry needs to raise the profile of female construction workers, perhaps by asking women to visit schools and colleges as guest speakers. Celebrating the trailblazers who have already carved out a successful career in construction will help to encourage other women to follow in their footsteps, and it will show that it’s not exclusively a boys’ club anymore.

Educating and empowering girls and young women

Many employers are already keen to diversify their workforce, but often find that the talent pool for female candidates is very small, meaning it’s harder to find qualified women. This is likely because young women learn that construction isn’t a “girl’s job” from an early age, and so don’t decide to pursue this as a career. Educators and employers need to work together to change this misconception, preferably by working in schools with young people before they’ve decided what they’d like to do for a living.
There are also a number of myths around physical strength which educators need to dispel. Thanks to modern technical advancements, many building roles don’t involve as much demanding physical labour as they once did. Additionally, lots of on-site roles, such as surveying and site management, aren’t very physical jobs. So, it’s a myth that you need to be physically strong to work on a building site, and it’s important that girls and young women realise this before they dismiss it as a career option.
Additionally, girls and young women need to be made more aware that there’s a lot of room for progression. Site management roles involve a high degree of emotional intelligence and strong interpersonal skills, which are the types of jobs women are often more drawn to. If more young women were aware that these qualities are sought after skills, they might consider pursuing construction as a career.

A career in construction can be rewarding and lucrative, so it’s only right that women are given the support and encouragement they need to build a career in the sector. By working together, employers and educators can change attitudes and pave the way for women to succeed in construction.