2.3 million people work in the UK construction industry, but only 300,000 of those are female. That’s a measly 13%.
Granted, there’s a huge effort being made to change this, with organisations actively working to attract and retain women and reviewing the pay and promotions of female employees. “Women in” groups have been established throughout the industry, which create networks and professional connections, and women are being sought out more often to speak on panels and at industry events, being given a platform to be heard. Flexible working is becoming more accessible, and maternity and childcare packages are improving every year.
With leaps forward like this surely the industry should be attracting more and more women, right?
Unfortunately this isn’t the case. Younger women in particular just aren’t recognising construction as a viable career choice.
In 2018, the intake of our own Multiplex graduate scheme was 23 young men to 2 young women. We simply couldn't attract enough female applicants.
I’ve done a lot of work with girls in education from early secondary school to degree level, and it’s not that they’re ruling out construction as a career by choice, it’s that they don’t even realise it is there to be considered. A number of the girls I speak to admit that they wouldn’t think to approach a construction company’s stand at a recruitment fair… they would just assume it wasn’t there for them.
A friend of mine told me that he had never spoken to his daughters about joining the construction industry, even though he’d worked himself as an engineer for many years. He said that they wouldn’t suit it because they didn’t like mess. One of his daughters went on to be a nurse, and I can guarantee you that a night in A&E is messier than even the most badly managed of construction sites!
Young people can only make choices based on the information they’ve been given, often by parents or teachers, and so we need to make sure that the information they have includes all options, regardless of that young person’s gender or perceived preferences.
A huge percentage of young women aren’t aware that thousands of exciting and rewarding jobs exist in construction, which I find incredibly frustrating. I love my job, and I would (and do) recommend this industry to everyone I meet.
But, so what? Why is it important to push construction into the eyeline of young girls?
Think of it this way; the UK construction sector is in the midst of a skills shortage that recently hit the worst ever recorded level, and it is expected to worsen over the coming years and decades, limiting construction activity and increasing labour costs at the same time. But there’s 51% of the population almost completely untapped. If an additional 1% of the female population suddenly decided to pursue a career in construction, it would inject 320,000 additional employees into the workforce.
So, talk to your daughters, your granddaughters, your nieces and any young women that you know. Make sure that they understand we exist, and don’t assume that they’re bypassing construction by choice. Let them know that they are welcome here, and point out our incredible success stories all along the London skyline. This industry is tough but rewarding, and I’m certainly glad that I didn’t miss out.
Vicki Holmes is Digital Manager for Multiplex. She will be speaking at the Women in Construction Summit taking place 16th May 2019 in London.
Interested in supercharging your career?
The Women in Construction World Series returns in 2019 with events in London, Amsterdam, and the USA. A must for any women in construction looking to smash the glass ceiling, these conferences will inspire you with talks from industry leaders and enhance your skills with practical workshops, helping to drive change in the sector.