Women in Construction - Building the Future

20 September 2022 · Sarah Dudley

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The world being built around us has never before had such a diverse workforce.

Women’s contribution within the construction industry is one such strand of diversity that’s slowly increasing but making an impact.

As the number of women in construction continues to increase, and we see ceiling-breaking developments such as Bailey Gair being elected as President of Civil Contractors New Zealand (their first female President in their 78 year history) - SaferMe's Sarah Dudley looks into what's driving this change and what transformation it might bring.

The Stats

Construction, similar to other industries affected by advancements in technology, has experienced major change over the last decade. The construction workforce is changing too to reflect new roles, processes and to meet demand.

Recent stats in the US show women make up only 10.9% of the entire construction workforce. Looking more closely, the lion's share of these construction roles are office roles like admin and HR (just under 87%), whereas only 2.5% of tradespeople are women.  

This lack of representation is also felt in areas such as the civil engineering profession (one of the best paid worldwide), yet only around 12% of civil engineering professionals are women according to Forbes magazine. Similarly only 17% of registered architects are women according to the American Institute of Architects (2020).

However women are proving to be a much needed resource to meet demand and these stats are increasing. In March 2022, the Construction Federation of Ireland released a report revealing that one in four jobs added in 2021 went to women. Not only that but the total number of women in the industry has reached the highest level since records began in 1994. 

In the USA attitudes are changing towards recognising the construction industry as a positive working environment for women. Business Wire reported that 76% of women surveyed stated that the construction environment is changing for the better and 80% saying that they love their job. 

So what has changed to attract more women into construction? 

Construction is a changing industry with emerging technologies, new innovative roles and major project demand - so women have been highlighted as an untapped workforce. 

The industry is attracting a more diverse workforce by raising awareness of opportunities available, creating support networks and designing tailored outreach. Women are finally able to visualize longevity for themselves in construction.

One of the most important aspects of bolstering this momentum is  representation. 

The more women are visually represented in ad campaigns, recruitment call outs, leadership, mentoring, training and education, the more women can see construction as a viable career option for their futures.

Genuine and authentic representation is important. Keeping relevant and being accessible to everyone. Eliminating barriers which historically alienated outsiders from getting a look in.  

Social media plays a part in opening a closed off industry to a wider audience. Today, doing a basic ‘women in construction’ search on YouTube,  you can find an abundance of visual content of women discussing, debating, sharing and teaching all things construction.  

Emily Pilliton-Lam a diversity in construction non-profit founder, generated 1.4M views of her TedTalk video - ‘What if women built the world they want to see?’  She speaks of her first-hand experience training young women and opens up the conversation of imagining a world built through equity. 

‘’More than just an economic opportunity, though, is a chance for women to play an equal and substantive role in the making of our physical world.’’

Women are acquiring a more equal contribution to the way the world is being built. If that share continues to increase we can really start to imagine what would the experience of our parks, buildings, homes and environments feel with a more equitable approach in their construction. 

Obstacles to progression & retention in construction

Women are overcoming the well-recognised barriers to entering the workforce and more and more are beginning careers in construction. A complex challenge for all in the industry is to identify how best to retain women in the industry.

Support networks like WIC (Women in Construction Week) in the US, founded in 1960, run an awareness campaign every year. Their goal is to highlight the achievements of women in the construction industry and encourage any woman in construction to join a support association as a way to create community and share experiences. 

In their 2020 report on Women in Construction, Randstad in the UK reported ‘’it’s important for employers to look at their policies and see if extra flexibility and ways of working can be implemented in order to retain the current female workforce.’’

The report also sighted equal pay, flexibility of working hours and equal growth opportunities for men and women as the top three factors to help women stay in the industry. 

It’s important to state that the low numbers of women in construction is not something that can be fixed with a hiring binge. Real change comes with cultural reflection, an honest conversation about making people feel welcome and appreciated that it becomes intrinsic, embedded. 

We are now living in a time when the construction industry has changed so much that workers no longer have to fit exactly into what construction demands, rather the industry is the putty that the workers can mold and cultural changes come from the top down. 

When they trickle and permeate every level, when women can visualize themselves within the structure with longevity and flourish with their work, that’s when the real change occurs.

When we see more evidence from leadership showing a desire for genuine and sustainable change we see results. For example celebrating the unique perspectives of women, their problem solving, analytical and empathic communication skills.

Appreciation for diversity at every level creates more inclusive workplaces that celebrate belonging as opposed to ‘fitting in’.

If we want to see further equity in how the world around us is built, all sides must work together to create a working industry that benefits everyone.

The door to the construction industry has been wedged ajar, now it is up to everyone collectively to push it wide open.

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