Traditionally construction work was deemed too physical for women and thus it became rare and even frowned upon for women to look to work in construction. Gender stereotypes are becoming a thing of the past and over the last Ten years I have noticed a shift in mentality towards women in construction. Here I am going to write about what I have noticed and my hopes for the future:
I started my apprenticeship around ten years ago in Lambeth college. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a diverse range of students boasting a 30 year difference in ages as well as an evenly proportioned amount of males and females. I wondered if this was common or if I simply had an unusually high female presence in my class. Sadly, it was the latter.
I’ve had the pleasure to work in several beautiful areas across England, from Dover to Brighton, London to Oxford, as well as abroad in Australia. As you may imagine, I have noticed a significant male presence in my industry – so I wonder why there aren’t more females in construction and how I think having women in construction would benefit so many of us. Building sites in the UK have a real stigma attached to them – from the God forsaken ‘white van man’ to the pack of wolf whistling yobs. What I have found is that construction has been laboured with a stereotype which makes the industry unattractive to potential female employees. Why would anyone want to work on a building site which is dirty, where there is a lack of supposedly ‘highly educated’ people, where there are men with a tendency to forget their manners, and where there are few obvious examples of female progression up the ladder as it were.
I’m currently working on a project where there is a female decorator, with whom I shared an interesting conversation which offered me a rare insight into the opposite sexes opinion. Whilst the general theme of the conversation was positive – that the vast majority of her male co-workers welcomed her and acted appropriately as you’d expect, the surprising find was that her biggest negative experience was actually towards the facilities provided. This site had a large container unit with a working microwave and fridge, clean drinking water and a sink to wash in (may I add this is actually not too common on work sites in London suburbs) as well as a ‘portaloo’. The portaloo’s waste was recycled regularly enough to adhere to health and safety regulations however the actual toilet was far from clean. Not only this but the chairs provided were old garden chairs, the fridge had an unpleasant smell and the microwave was growing something I daren’t try to explain. Standards have to improve across the board to make construction sites more appealing to work in.
Another interesting observation is on the flip side – as an employer. Some employers have commented on physical disadvantages women have which leave men better suited to the plastering industry. This is a fair point – it is true that the ‘average’ man is likely to be more capable of lifting more weight and faster than the ‘average’ woman however there are certainly ways around this. Employers in construction should not discount the positive impact having a diverse team can have which include: Increased productivity, improved creativity, increased profits, improved employee engagement, reduced employee turnover, improved company reputation, wider range of skills, improved cultural insights.
To summarise I feel that although we have come a long way, there is still so much more we can do to encourage both employers to be more open minded in their recruitment processes as well as women to look at construction jobs as a positive career choice. Only once we have rid ourselves of the stereotypes will we truly see the positive impact women can have on the construction industry.