International Women’s Day, commemorates women’s achievements throughout history ‘and across nations’. In this country it serves as a useful reminder of women’s societal progression since being given the vote 100 years ago. In Westminster and workplaces across the UK it’s led to a levelling-out of the gender imbalance, as more women assume powerful, influential positions once considered men-only domains.
The term ‘equal opportunities’ doesn’t yet fully-apply to the construction industry.Whilst figures appear to be headed in the right direction, with women currentlyaccounting for 18.8% of the sector’s workforce compared to 12.1% a decade ago, they’re proof that building and associated trades predominately remain a male domain. It’s an issue that needs urgent address, primarily for what is right and fair for women. But the industry itself is missing a trick by not tapping into the largely-ignored talent pool at its disposal.
According to recent reports, the UK construction industry will need approximately 400,000 new workers every year until 2021 to meet the demand for new building projects. The current skills gap is due to workers retiring from the sector and not being replaced. It seems traditional trades such as engineering,roofing, plumbingand the like are not as attractive to our future workforce. A survey commissioned by housebuilder Keepmoat showed that just 13% of women aged 16-25 would consider a career in construction. As well as the industry being viewed as impenetrably male, a reason for women’s reticence to commit to a building-related profession could be attributed to the current gender pay gap.
For instance, research carried out in 2016 by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found on average, men earned £11,000 more than women in a similar role. This was up from a gap of £7,000 in the same survey a year earlier.
There should be no barriers to women feeling that their place in the UK construction industry is as rightful as men’s. And whilst organisations such as Women In Roofing seek to inspire and support young women hoping to make their way in the trade, perceptions about the sector being a preserve of masculinity may take many years to dismantle. Donna Owen MIoR, Area Technical Manager at Sika-Trocal, is well-placed to offer her view of women’s place in the construction industry. Having spent 22 years working in the sector with a number of trade associations such as NFRC and SPRA, she said women were - slowly at least - making their presence felt in the building trade.
"“In the past five years I’ve seen an increase in the number of women coming into the industry - but nowhere near enough. For women in construction it’s about gaining as much knowledge, education and training as possible to earn respect and share best practice within the construction industry. You really have to prove yourself in this sector, but once you do it’s a great industry to be part of.”"
the benefits of a career in construction should be targeted at both sexes as part of an industry-driven programme with full government backing. Its success will hopefully result in more women being on-site, rather than out of sight as the 21st century progresses.