Women in engineering and construction

Columnists | Manufacturing | Property & Construction

Roni Savage - BLM columnist

My first article for BLM discusses a topic I am extremely passionate about – Empowering women in Engineering & Construction.

I am managing director of Jomas Associates, an engineering & environmental consultancy serving the construction industry. We work on residential, retail, industrial and commercial schemes, for Land Developers across the UK.

Employing almost three million people and generating approximately £100bn every year for the UK economy, the construction industry is vital to the nation’s prosperity. While investment in construction projects continues to rise, the workforce does not appear to be growing. Far too few apprentices and graduates are entering the sector, and finding suitable skilled workers is a challenge. If not resolved, this will undoubtedly have an adverse impact on construction projects nationwide.

Following Brexit, the construction industry must explore different options to get skilled labour;

  • The industry must focus on developing existing talent, equipping them with appropriate training and knowledge to succeed.
  • Construction and Engineering should be promoted to more women, and personnel who may currently consider the career unattractive.

Attracting women into construction poses a significant problem

In 2017, women accounted for only 1 in 8 (12.5%) of personnel in engineering jobs in the UK. There is therefore a reliance on men to fill engineering and construction related vacancies.

With the gender disparity in construction at a time when the industry is crying out for new recruits, it is imperative that companies attract a more gender-balanced workforce.

Following discussions with several women, some of the reasons considered for this disparity are outlined below;

Stereotype – traditionally engineering and construction related careers were promoted to males more than females. The industry has a macho culture, which some women may consider inappropriate.

Career progression – the industry may not appeal to females due to perceived barriers to career progression, which is somewhat related to the stereotypes.

The gender pay gap – the disparate pay between men and women presents a barrier to both attracting and retaining the industry’s female workforce. According to the ONS, the gender pay gap between men and women working in construction stands at 45.4%, with women paid an average hourly rate of £8.04, compared with £14.74 for men.

Retention – Some women drop out of the engineering and construction related careers due to some of the issues previously identified. Many women also find it impossible to re-enter the industry post child birth or following a career break.

Sexism – While it would appear that extreme gender discrimination is no longer a widespread issue, unfortunately the culture of undermining decisions and competencies of women in Engineering and Construction still remains with a few. Some women have commented on benevolent sexism, which makes them feel awkward working in a male dominated environment.

Solution

If the construction industry is to deliver the billions of essential infrastructure projects the country has lined up, it is essential to keep the female workforce in place and also continue to attract new female talent.

Role models and female STEM ambassadors are required to raise the profile of Engineering and Construction. I love construction, I love everything about the built environment and engineering. In our industry there are so many opportunities that women don’t realise they can do. It is time to shout about it.

As Women in Engineering Day looms ahead on 23 June 2018, The Women in Engineering Society is running the ‘Top 50 Women in Engineering 2018 (WE50)’ campaign.

The WE50 campaign aims to raise awareness of the skills shortage facing the industry and the huge discrepancy between the number of men vs. women currently in Engineering professions. This is in an effort to change perceptions and encourage young women to consider Engineering as a viable and rewarding career.

For 2018, the theme is returners or transferrers, targeting women who may be returning or changing careers, and entering the Engineering field. This is an initiative, expected to strengthen the workforce.

The construction and engineering industry needs more women.

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