#PressforProgress

This year has seen significant progress in the fight for gender equality. Not only has it marked 100 years since some women were given the right to vote in the UK; campaigns such as #MeToo, 50:50 #AskHerToStand and #TimesUp have seen a big push to better represent, support and recognise women in mainstream industries.

The Construction industry is notoriously male dominated; Women make up around 13% of construction sector workers with only 2% being on-site workers, a number that hasn’t changed much for two decades. There’s been promising developments and there are currently some great UK initiatives aimed to encourage more women into construction, but the truth of the matter is that women are still significantly under-represented. Why does this matter?

More than 150,000 jobs are set to be created within the sector over the next five years. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) predicts 15,350 carpenters and 9,350 labourers will be needed as more homes are built. The strongest job growth is expected to be in a range of professional and managerial roles. Not only is this industry suffering from a skills shortage but is shooting itself in the foot if it doesn’t make itself an attractive career option for the entire population.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s day is #PressforProgress, offering another opportunity to reflect on the progress made towards gender equality and begs the question, what more can we do to encourage a more balanced workforce within the construction industry?

Over the 15 years I have worked in the industry I have seen many initiatives set up, seminars and conferences to promote trade based jobs to women. I’ve seen female operatives take part in career days at schools in the hope it will resonate with someone and open the doors in to the construction world and very often this works really well. But reflecting on my own career path and how I ended up in the construction industry, it dawned on me that a huge driver in the under-representation of women is that many women just don’t imagine themselves having a career in construction and are not necessarily interested in trade based roles. Even the Resident Liaison roles still scream muddy work boots for some women!

So what is the solution? We almost certainly need to do more to change women’s perceptions of working in construction and to better promote the wider variety of careers available within the industry – especially to school leavers! But for me, the key to attracting women in to the industry is by promoting the numerous entry routes it can offer and how women can be supported at various stages in their careers. For example when they have children.

Abbie Dormon, one of our Gas Engineers is a great example of this. After attending one of our parent and student careers event, we learnt that Abbie had previously trained as a gas engineer but since having her daughter had not been able to find a job that would offer the flexibility to upskill and provide on the job training to enable her to re-enter the sector. In a matter of months Abbie progressed from a 1 day per week work placement into a full time paid role she now loves.

Similarly, Angela Auvache attended one of our DIY skills workshops, she wasn’t entirely sure what career she wanted but seemed interested in learning more. We offered her the opportunity to undertake a work placement with us to train as a multi-skilled operative. A try before you buy type scenario.

After training as a hairdresser Chloe Frost, another colleague decided a career change was in order and joined our apprenticeship programme to become a qualified handyperson working on our sheltered housing.

We need to accept that a one size fits all won’t work with attracting women in to the industry, we need to provide opportunities to open up discussions, look at people’s circumstances and find other ways of opening the doors to them. A great vehicle to do this is through social value activity and for us is intrinsically tied to the commitments we make to our clients around providing job opportunities and training to local people.

BasWorx, a social enterprise we set up with Basildon Council to offer meaningful work opportunities to Basildon residents of all ages. This year will be the first year to have women amongst the cohort.

We need to be mindful that it’s not just about attracting more women in to the industry, it’s also about supporting the women we already have and doing our best to hold on to them. This could mean changing the way we work, placing more of a focus on outcomes rather than hours worked and utilising technology to better support flexible working patterns. Organisations need to ensure that their processes and policies work to support and encourage women to return to work after having children. As someone who has had two children during my time in the industry, I have felt and continue to feel very well supported by my colleagues.

We still have a long way to go to change people’s perceptions of the industry and it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not about women. Research suggests that while gender diverse companies are 14% more likely to perform better that those that are not gender diverse, ethnically diverse companies are 33% more likely to perform better.

So let’s #Pressforprogress, women, men, people with different values and experiences – all will have different ways of viewing the world. With hundreds of thousands of jobs needing to be filled in the next 5 years, it’s time to find new ways to attract a broader set of skills so that the industry can better support the communities it serves and ultimately boosts the performance of our business.

Natasha Kyriakou, Head of Marketing

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Morgan Sindall