Bridging the gender gap in construction

Date: 08/03/2019
Author: Harvey Lawrence
Company: Harvey Lawrence

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated annually on March 8th and although it may feel like a new celebration it actually began in 1911. The day is one of celebration and recognition of women’s achievements around the globe and strives for continued gender equality, with this year’s message being #BalanceforBetter.

Across the construction industry there are only around 14% of workers who are female and the higher you climb, the smaller the number gets with just 4% accounting for senior positions in the industry.

Harvey Lawrence, industry-leading construction recruitment brand, is well-aware of the employer appetite to recruit female construction talent. Yet sadly, the number of women we place is less than 10%. If we look purely at managerial roles, that figure worryingly decreases to less than 4%. The industry so badly needs to recruit more females in order to move more towards gender parity and a more diverse workforce.

We took some time to talk to a recent female candidate of ours that we placed in a managerial role to get her thoughts on women in construction.    

Nicola Atkins (pictured), Bid Manager of Wates Construction North West, has a varied and successful career spanning 23 years in the construction industry. Nicola entered as a construction graduate and progressed through site engineering to senior level design and bid roles. Today on International Women’s Day we look at her advice for women considering a career in construction and consider what more can be done to retain the industry’s female talent.

Q: What advice would you give to women entering the construction industry?

A: “Be confident, be visible and let your voice be heard. You need to focus on yourself and be better than you thought you could be. Never stop seeking knowledge and surround yourself with successful people. Be prepared to grow and develop”.

Q: What things should women consider before they enter the industry?

A: “Appreciate that the industry is nomadic and that there are many exciting challenges and changes and that no two days are the same. There are many varied and wide-ranging roles that may not present themselves immediately, so you need to learn to be adaptable and be prepared to switch roles in order to get a rounded experience.  Be prepared to be strong in meetings and the conversations you hold. Keep in contact with your female friends as much possible so that you can achieve balance outside of work. This is important when working in what is still a male – predominated sector”. 

Q: What do you think can be done to help more women enter the construction industry?

A: “The industry has made great progress but more still needs to done. More progress could be done at “grass roots” level but there has been a lot of effort put in at secondary and higher education level. At primary school level the industry needs to show young girls that construction is an exciting and rewarding industry to work in”.

Q: How do you think the industry could change to retain more women?

A: “More can be done through offering more flexibility particularly with advancing technology and continued understanding to allow flexibility around family, home and careers. The industry needs to listen more to the needs of women so that they can keep female talent”. 

Q: Are there any particular attributes that women need in order to succeed in the construction sector?

A: “You need a good sense of humour and be prepared to be assertive. You also need to be able to effectively communicate as well as respond firmly when necessary. Whether you are working on bids or live sites, you are continually required to be a problem-solver and remain positive. If you really want to progress, you need to be able to lead”.

Q: In your experience, do you think that women are recognised as equal within the industry?

A: “Yes, I absolutely do!  In my 23 years in the industry I have had to be a chameleon and adapt. I work in a business where there are women in site roles, in quantity surveying roles and also in the office across a range of disciplines, which is great. We have proven ourselves as intellectually equal and the industry is excited by women taking key roles. The industry has harnessed the concept of the female gender being able to make a key contribution and recognises that females can play to the strengths of the business. Women can be highly marketable as their approach to tasks and confrontations is different to a man’s. Women are good at conflict resolution and really good at taking a collaborative approach”.
  

Q: What can be done to stop women leaving the industry?"

A: “Employers need to listen more to the reasons given by women for wanting to leave. They need to understand more and allow more flexibility. To keep the female asset, they need to allow them to try on “different hats” in terms of flexibility within job roles. The industry is exciting and has many varied areas of interest to explore. There is choice and choice is massively powerful to retaining women within the sector.”

IWD 2019 is, deservedly, an important day and the drive for continued gender equality is crucial in order to maintain momentum towards a more balanced workforce. Given the current skills shortage in construction, it’s important to recognise that women can, and do, make a highly valuable contribution to our industry. More women in the industry will bring an added dimension and play a key role in growing and diversifying talent pools across the industry – something Harvey Lawrence is committed to promoting wherever possible.

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