Employment rates for women continue to rise, with women now representing just under half of the workforce; in other words, record levels of women are now employed. There are, however, areas where progress has been slow and that includes construction.
In his introduction to a report by the Smith Institute (Building The Future: Women In Construction. March 2014.), director, Paul Hackett points out that women account for only 11% of the construction workforce and a mere 1% of workers on site and that there is still a gender pay gap.
According to Hackett: “The sector can neither justify nor countenance remaining a ‘no-go area’ for women. In order to fill the skills gap it will have to recruit and retain more women, and not just in support roles. There are no easy answers, but all the authors (of the report) are convinced that women must be central to the modernisation of the construction industries.”
Just as in other traditionally male-dominated sectors there are factors that put women at a disadvantage both in terms of their earning potential as well as their ability to build a successful career. Sexism, for example, continues to be a problem that is too often ‘laughed off’ or unchallenged. Although it appears to be a small point, sexism and the undermining of women in the workforce can have a dramatic effect on the chances of women.
Other sectors, such as science, engineering and technology have made better strides towards sexual equality but more needs to be done in construction. Trade Unions have begun to recognise this and are acting accordingly.
Historically, there have been times when trade unions have acted against the interests of women – such as protecting men’s jobs during wartime and the like but this issue is very much one for today.
Any industry that doesn’t encourage a diverse workforce can’t expect to compete in new markets and will therefore not be able to achieve its growth potential. The construction industry will certainly have to make distinct changes in the near future in favour of gender equality.
Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
UCATT is the UK’s only trade union specialising in construction. Women activists and organisers gathered for the inaugural meeting of the UCATT Women’s Network Forum in March 2014. The meeting was a springboard for action on recruiting more women members and increasing female participation in the union.
Women In Construction, Arts & Technology
WiCAT, is an organisation run by women for women to promote and support women in non traditional trades.
WiCAT runs introductory courses for women in a variety of trades and skills that women don’t usually have access to. Some courses are held for men and women, but all classes are taught by skilled and qualified women who have construction industry experience.