Women in construction – it’s time to break down the barriers

Construction has the lowest percentage of female workers of any industry in the UK, according to a study by the Smith Institute.
Their report said that women make up just 11% of the workforce, with only 1% directly employed in the construction process – such as manual trades. The rest are mainly office-based, working in admin and secretarial positions.

These are startling statistics for the 21st century, and highlight an uncomfortable truth for the industry.

Public image is certainly part of the problem. The dominant construction worker stereotype is still of a man wearing trousers cut too low at the back, wolf-whistling female passers-by. And, perhaps unfairly, construction is often seen as an industry for poorly paid, low-skilled labourers, rather than qualified workers embarking on a successful, long-term career.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why women are put off. And the apparent pay gap does little to dispel myths. A recent survey by salary research organisation PayScale found that the average salary for men working in the industrial construction sector is almost £33,000. For women it stands at just over £24,000.

The knock-on effect of these issues is that women thinking about entering the industry have no role models to look up to and emulate. It appears many women who decide to follow a construction career only do so because they want to follow in the footsteps of a family member. The Smith Institute’s study also points out, of those that do start careers in construction, the vast majority leave within five years.

Aside from highlighting issues of inequality and industry sexism, this also has serious implications for the future of the industry.

Construction is already experiencing a skills shortage. But with around one in five workers approaching retirement and a quarter of the workforce aged between 45 and 55, it’s set to become more acute.

By recruiting so few female workers, the industry is missing out on a huge pool of potential workers – a trend it can no longer afford to ignore. And it’s not simply a case of making up the numbers. Women represent a valuable source of untapped talent, innovative ideas and fresh approaches, which could help drive the industry forward for years to come.

At Osborne Construction, we’re already bucking this trend. Women make up 22% of our workforce – double the industry average – and a third of our property services employees are female.

We recognise the benefits a diverse workforce brings for our business, clients and the industry. And, while we accept there’s a long way to go, our innovative recruitment methods are helping us attract the most skilled and talented people for every role.

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