“Addressing the gender imbalance in the construction industry is more than a moral issue. It is a practical challenge for our industry in the face of ongoing productivity issues and an imminent skills shortage.” Jean Winters, Industrial Relations, and Employment Director, Construction Industry Federation.
According to a Membership diversity report issued by the CIF, only 5.5% of the on-site construction workforce in Ireland is made up of women. This means that the chances of finding female workers in a construction site are about 1 in 10. On the other hand, in other off-site construction departments such as health and safety, accounts, and administration, women make up around 44% of the workforce. The Diversity Survey report also goes on to point out that women who assume senior level company positions in this industry comprise only 3%.
Mercury Engineering, in an article published on their website in March 2018, reports that some of the factors that contribute notably to the few numbers of women in the construction industry include gender stereotyping in the workplace, the physical nature of most of the work, and the perception that the construction work environment is unconducive to women. Construction companies have also failed in their mandate to take up an active role to sensitize their workforce on organizational gender diversity policies.
One thing that can be agreed upon, however, is that for there to be a sustainable future in the construction industry, we need to increase the percentage of female workers in the construction industry. If we continue to rely on the male-dominated talent pool, we will face a looming shortage of the skills required. Without female talent, the construction industry’s efforts to deliver critical national and organizational strategies will most likely fall short. In light of this, construction firms and companies have taken certain steps in an effort to change the current gender situation. The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) as well as the Association Of Consulting Engineers of Ireland have both been on the forefront in encouraging females with an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to consider a course leading them into the construction industry, in a bid to grow the number of females making a decisions to pursue a career in engineering.
In addition, the Construction Industry Federation has taken an active role by working with schools and colleges to interest and steer female students towards a career in engineering. This is mainly done by trying to communicate the rewards and benefits of women who tend to pursue a career in construction and engineering.
Other steps taken by construction companies to embrace gender diversity in their workplace include training of staff on the importance of having a gender-inclusive environment with 13% of companies already having this training in place. There is also heightened embrace of technology as well as health and safety measures in the construction industry which has enabled a more female-friendly working environment.
More needs to be done, however, if we are to achieve the goal of addressing the gender imbalance issue. For example, more companies should participate actively in carrying out staff training about gender parity, while at the same time encouraging the development of a female-friendly work environment for females in their workforce. Construction organizations also need to embrace and implement the idea of more women in the boardroom, senior management levels, as well as on-site. Finally, the Construction Industry Federation should step up its efforts to interest young female engineers from a young age.
For this become a reality, the industry leaders, both male and female, need to work together to bring about the changes required to attract more women into construction because the future of this sector relies on our collective efforts to bridge the gender gap.