It’s no secret that the construction industry is male dominated, with a staggering 99% of on-site construction workers throughout the UK being male, compared to just 11% of women accounting for the entire construction workforce.
But what does the role of an on-site female construction worker entail in such a male-dominated profession, and what challenges can be expected?
Here, we delve into the experience of the construction industry as a female worker as well as the opportunities that can increase the proportion of women in the sector.
The gender pay gap
Salary discrepancies within the sector is common for women, with construction companies discovering that the industry had the largest pay gap in the financial year of 2021–2022. With a gap of 23.7%, women would earn around 76p while a man would earn £1. Thus, it can be discouraging for women to start a career in the industry with inequality – but it emphasises the importance of those who do have existing roles in the sector despite this pay gap.
There’s a long way to go when it comes to the gender pay gap within construction. However, raising awareness on the topic could be one of the solutions to the problem. In fact, gender pay-gap reporting highlights the issue and emphasises the industries which are particularly struggling – and transparency allows human resources to be more useful in the sector.
Unequal gender representation
With the construction industry being male-dominated, it’s a severe issue that the number of females within the industry are so low. The lack of representation of women in the industry could lead to a male-focused culture that acts as a deterrent to young women, thus the number of women working in construction roles would remain low.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has a partnership with the charity, Women in Construction, offering support to women and helping them explore their options. With a virtual work experience programme available to help secure placements, as well as opportunities for further training to upskill, participants in the scheme have the chance to progress to a permanent role in the sector.
The partnership has existed since 2008, providing programmes in London, Birmingham, Cambridge, Norfolk, and Essex, as well as offering in-depth 1-2-1 support for the women participating in the scheme. Although there is certainly room for many more women in construction, the partnership has helped to provide opportunities for thousands of women in the sector.
In the last five years, the amount of women who are moving into construction and engineering apprenticeships across the UK has increased by 366%. It’s clear that these opportunities are being taken advantage of – so expect to see more women using a cherry picker on building sites.
With women making up such a small percentage of the construction workforce comes inappropriate and sexist behaviour. According to a 2020 Women in Construction study, 41% of women have previously received inappropriate comments from a male co-worker out of the 4,200 workers surveyed. As well as this 72% of women in construction have fallen victim to gender discrimination in the workplace.
It goes without saying that this is a severe issue that shouldn’t exist at all in the workplace, and there’s a long way to go. However, it’s crucial for the workplace to be aware of the challenge and how to work towards the solution – and with proper training for employees, as well as punishments for those part of the problem, we could see a decrease in the behaviour.
It’s vital for progress that men who oversee the inappropriate behaviour call it out, even as a co-worker. For higher roles, like supervisors, men in these positions should not only challenge it by calling it out but by also addressing the issue to the relevant people, such as the human resource department, to deter any repeated behaviour. Training sessions to demonstrate sexism in the workplace can also be helpful for this, as not only does it reflect to employees an example of inappropriate behaviour, but it also allows those in higher positions to be aware of what can and can’t be punished.
There are many difficulties that a woman working in the construction industry can face. However, it’s hopeful to see the support already available – and over time, this could increase further to support women aspiring to work in the sector.