Women in Construction: Why is underrepresentation such a major issue?
If you take the time to think about your own thoughts about what makes a building site, it is almost certain that the workers you imagine are predominantly male. Building and construction is one of the sectors that women don’t seem to be attracted to, meaning that the vast majority of the workforce are men. This is still the case despite the fact that gender stereotypes and inequality have been tackled in many other industries that previously had a similar imbalance.
Currently, women make up around 10% of the total construction workforce. Although this already sounds unbalanced, it is even more so when you consider the fact that these figures include those who are working behind desks, or those who are involved in the design side of the industry. On actual building sites, when it comes to workers who are involved in physical labour, it is thought that almost 99% of them are men.
It is thought that sexism is one major issue in this industry. Although many other sectors have made massive steps with regards to moving forward with gender issues, this one seems to have remained stagnant. This is largely thought to be due to the way women are treated when on site – with sexist attitudes and remarks from their male counterparts whilst on the job.
The main thing that needs to change is the way that the job is perceived by young people, as these are the very people who need to be encouraged into the industry to help tackle the issue. It is currently relatively difficult to find any kind of female role model in the construction and building trade, and as a result young girls simply aren’t seeing it as an option that would be accessible to them once they have finished at school.
Holly Porter has gone some way to tackling the issue, having set up a group for females working in the building trade called Chicks with Bricks. This aims to make females who wish to work in the industry realise that they are not alone in their choice, and that there are other people who have the same aims as them.
Many females state that, when they inform people of what they do for a living, they are constantly met by surprised reactions. This is thought to be largely due to the lack of attention aimed towards women in the industry and, if attitudes are tackled, this type of reaction should be able to be changed.
Alethea Watson aims to tackle attitudes in young people, to ensure that they grow up seeing the building trade as one that women can absolutely be involved in. The scheme that she is involved in is called Volunteer It Yourself, and this encourages young people to get themselves involved in projects within their local community that would help them to develop the skills that they would need to work in construction. In the modern world, with so many options available to young people, there are many who may be confused about what they would like to do in the future. This project aims to give them a taste of something that they might never have tried before, and may even uncover talents that they never imagined they had. Just under 40% of the people who have signed up to this scheme are women, which immediately shows that this has a much more even split between genders than the building industry in general. The community spirit that is encouraged may be helping with this, as young people are very much encouraged to get their friends involved with the work that is being done.
Despite this promising project, there is no denying the fact that overall, there are still clear gender issues within the industry that need to be tackled if there is any hope of females being better represented in the future. Holly Porter suggests that females who are currently in the industry should use this as an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and to encourage young people to be involved whenever possible. The very fact that you are different to the majority of those working within that industry gives you the opportunity to make a difference, and if more people are encouraged to do so, it could bring a very real change to the industry, and to people who may wish to join it in the future.
There is no doubt that women face a huge challenge when it comes to getting involved with construction, and there is a huge pressure to prove that their abilities are just as good as their male counterparts. With time, and the development of youth schemes, the future looks hopeful for any youngsters who may have an interest in the industry. Moreover with dedication from those who have the power to encourage change, gender stereotypes may be able to be addressed, leaving the industry with a much more even balance than before.