Are we Changing or just Challenging Perceptions?

Diversity is not just about Gender- yes, we need do need and want more women in our industry. And the proportion of women in senior roles needs to increase significantly.

I am sure no one is disputing this. The question  is – how we get there and in some ways- why aren’t we there?

There is much in the media about increasing the percentage of women in senior roles and to welcome more women in all roles. Campaigns in the media are looking at ways to improve the retention of women. It will also help to provide women with the tools to advance their careers, from ‘sites to boardrooms.’

Although I personally welcome this, I guess I thought and hoped that leadership was beyond what gender we are. It’s about the right person for the job, regardless of whether they were male or female. Maybe, I was thinking that gender diversity in our industry was no longer a divide.

The fact remains that in order for women to be in a position to take up senior roles, they have to be attracted into the workforce in the first place, made to feel welcome, and supported in their career development.

Previously, I have talked about the skills shortage and the blend of skills needed in the engineering world. It seems that our industry is now fully aware of this.Uncertainty is growing in the industry around jobs and pensions, and many skilled trades people are nearing retirement. It could be argued that the lack of diversity is building up to a perfect storm.

Businesses must seriously address the issues that put women off joining our industry. These include flexibility, equal pay, perceived promotional prospects and any lingering discrimination. We need them to actively consider construction as an alternative – something they are probably not doing today.

The gender pay gap continues to be discussed in the media. Reports have shown that the government’s own figures reveal that construction industry firms are ‘5 percentage points worse on average than UK firms overall. Our pay gap is around 23.3 per cent.’

A large part of the pay gap comes from the fact that men with longer careers in the industry fill most of the top roles. Companies that don’t recognise the many skills and diversity of approach that women bring will find it hard to close the pay gap, and even harder to recruit and hang on to the people they need.

According to the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), women make up only 11% of the workforce. There is an obvious opportunity to address some of our skills and recruitment issues if we encourage more women to join the sector.

Increasing the percentage of women in our workforce is a strategic priority that we actively track and manage. The industry needs to do a much better and more consistent job of selling itself. Collectively we have to disprove the stereotype that construction is a ‘man’s world.’ That belongs in the past!

The industry has become significantly more professional in recent years in terms of technology and working practices. This drive towards professionalism needs to go hand in hand with equal treatment of female workers.

Perhaps the most concerning statistic was that a recent survey found that almost half of the women surveyed felt that the high proportion of men in the industry makes it intimidating.

This is at the core of the issue we need to address. The industry may still be male dominated but there are huge opportunities for businesses that buck that trend and recruit successfully from the widest possible talent pool. We need to come together, as an industry, to change these outdated perceptions.”

Mike Todd is Lead Business Development Manager for Infrastructure at Osborne.

Transport Infrastructure Resource Centre

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