We’ve got a scenario where there is a shortage of labour all around, particularly skilled labour. We desperately want new blood yet, perversely, we may be blocking access to the industry, in some form or another, to roughly half the potential candidates.
Construction is still viewed as a predominantly male industry and a sexist one at that – despite the efforts of our best PRs. So, is the sexist tag born of misconception or are we all a little bit implicit in keeping the door pushed shut?
I think there are most definitely institutional assumptions that are incredibly hard to shake eg. A woman wouldn’t want to get her hands dirty; she’s not up to the job in the same way that a man is; once she’s had children, she’s not going to work as hard. (Although that latter example is a prejudice shared across many industries..). However, it’s up to us - each individual company, regardless of size – to make every effort to shake these assumptions and encourage a higher female ratio within the workforce.
There has been some movement to make changes in recent years. The construction industry at large has become more female-friendly and there are definitely more female professionals and skilled workers engaging at higher levels and in secretarial roles but there’s still a major gap when it comes to construction sites, which remain male-dominated environments.
Statistics reveal that men make up almost 86 per cent of the total workforce in construction and it’s estimated that on building sites, 99 per cent of the workers are men.
Various polls have been registered that reveal that the public at large and, most importantly, women consider the construction industry as likely to be a sexist environment. Other polls have gone further and revealed that this would be a fundamental negative and enough to put off a majority of female candidates. Much of the problem lies in the perception of a sexist environment rather than a sexist environment itself. W need to shift that perception in order to make any headway but where do you start?
Last year, the CITB conducted a poll of industry employers across the UK and its findings revealed that over three quarters believe increased career promotion in schools would help to improve opportunities for women.
I’m definitely in there with that 75 per cent….
Construction jobs need to be promoted in schools – and the earlier the better. Children are influenced from the cradle by what society expects from a boy and what it expects of a girl – what is ‘the norm’. Much has been made of this inherent sexism when it comes to clothes and toys and it’s proven that a lot of play from a very early age is divided between the sexes.
The influences have to start early and we need female role models. We don’t need a ‘Bob the Builder’; we need a Wendy to take on the title role and smash it instead ! Similarly, we need to invest in an earlier education that encourages girls to design and build.
When it comes to secondary education, we need some leading female industry figures to pitch up in the schools and address the masses and, like any initiative, it needs to be driven through at government level.
Finally, if the answer to our leading, title question is yes – and it has to be ! -as always, we need to take some responsibility ourselves and be proactive.
At Saracen, we’ve experienced first-hand the fall-out from the recession and the struggle with labour shortages and it’s incredibly frustrating to know that potential female candidates are being turned off by the perceptions of the industry overall. In order to combat that, we’ve created a workplace environment that has zero tolerance when it comes to sexism.
In the last couple of years, we’ve appointed female quantity surveyors, alongside what has been a mainly female business development team, and we would encourage any female apprentice who is interested in working on one of our sites to come and talk to us.
Our role in all of this is to create the right environment and then, when perception does eventually start to change a little bit, we can help to validate that change.
Joint managing director Saracen Interiors Michael Page