By Sophie Beard, Account Executive, MRA Marketing
The construction industry has come a long way over the years in reflecting diversity. However, there is still a long way to go – particularly in encouraging women to work in the sector.
Women play an important part in construction, but the industry needs to do more to make construction an attractive and exciting place for women to work. A good place to start is by listening to women to find out what they value. A recent survey on ‘Women in Construction’ organised by CIPR Construction and Property Special Interest Group – which I took part in – clearly identified key emerging challenges, which need to be addressed.
What is clear from the survey is that these challenges can be overcome, particularly as an overwhelming majority of respondents to the survey (77%) felt proud to work within construction. It’s a sentiment that is becoming more and more evident. Take the recent ‘Women in Merchanting’ Round Table Debate for example. Organised by Builders’ Merchants News and hosted by the Builders Merchants Federation, 13 leading women in the industry discussed how the industry can attract and retain more female employees. The women applauded some great aspects of the industry and discussed how to work together to push the industry along a more diverse path. However, a recurring theme within the CIPR survey and the Round Table is that our industry doesn’t ‘shout’ loud enough about the great things it is doing and the exciting opportunities it offers.
Flexible working is another key area that needs to be addressed in order to attract more women in construction. Only 29% of respondents agreed flexible hours is a real option in the sector. To support women, the industry needs to promote and encourage flexible working to allow a balance of home and work life. People, not just women, value flexibility and understanding, so to get the best out of our employees the industry needs to move with the times and take the new working life on board. The next generation of workers will simply expect flexible working and any roles not offering this will be at a disadvantage.
With existing low numbers of women in construction there are few accessible mentors for women coming into the sector. Ongoing support to women reflects a challenge in the survey results, as 80% of respondents said they lacked mentors and sponsors. To guide and help women through construction we need to share our knowledge and experience of the industry with one another. This could be through a networking group, which 63% of the women taking part in this survey felt is absent from their organisation.
Construction is becoming more diverse, but this survey shows there is still a long way to go. This will only be achieved by listening to women to understand what they want, as well as looking outside of the construction industry to see what works well in other sectors, and incorporate this in construction.