Contracting, particularly in the construction industry, isn’t stereotypically seen as a career that a lot of women pursue. But why is this? As quite a physical job, construction and labouring has always been seen as a ‘man’s world’, but there’s no real reason for this. Can we as contractors and construction professionals do better to attract women to the workforce?
The inequalities women in construction face start at the most basic level, including inadequate facilities on sites – how can women feel included in an environment in which they’re not provided for? Provider of site containers and welfare units, Mobile Mini, have been looking into the gender inequality in construction and contracting and what we can all do in the industry to combat it.
How can female contractors be expected to feel equal on a site that doesn’t provide even basic facilities?
In any working environment, it’s vital for employers to provide adequate conditions for their employees or any contractors doing work on their sites. A workplace with poor conditions lowers morale and, in some cases, can cause illness and absence, so it really works in an employer’s favour to give employees and contractors comfortable work conditions. In construction, a largely male dominated industry, it’s common for women especially not to be given the facilities they require.
In September 2017, a survey was taken of more than 3,500 members of the UK’s largest trade union, Unite. This survey found that 17% of construction sites failed to provide separate toilets for female employees. This situation can be uncomfortable at best for women, and intimidating at worst. Separate facilities for men and women is the most comfortable system for both genders and it can also increase productivity. If there is only one facility, it is more likely that there will be queues which cuts down on working time.
Of the 17% of sites where facilities were provided, they were deemed “inadequate”. This could mean that they weren’t cleaned or maintained properly, or that they didn’t provide sanitary bins. The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations of 1992 specify that all businesses must provide a suitable means for disposing of sanitary products in each ladies’ bathroom. These are basic rights which can often be ignored in an industry in which women are a minority.
In light of this, Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail stated that construction employers who failed to give workers adequate welfare facilities “can and should be prosecuted.”
“Providing toilets and washing facilities is not a luxury; they are a basic human right. This survey must act as a wake up call to the construction industry.”
So how many women are actually in construction in the UK? As of last year, women made up 13% of construction industry professionals. This is a huge imbalance and although it has grown year on year, it is by very small amounts. In today’s climate where gender equality and equal pay for women is finally coming to the forefront of business and industry, why is construction a step behind?
Although separate toilets and sanitary bins may seem like a trivial issue to some, it is indicative of a larger problem. If female contractors don’t feel welcome on a site, are they likely to be interested in a career in construction? The idea of construction as a ‘man’s world’ can be dissuading to young women interested to get into the industry.
Container and site accommodation hire company Mobile Mini have been looking into how to get women more interested in contracting in the construction industry. It starts with inclusion. Management and those in senior positions need to indicate that women are welcome in this industry – a message that isn’t portrayed when they don’t even have their own welfare facilities.
There are many organisations whose goal is to drive more women into the contracting business. This is done by making them aware of the opportunities in the industry. As traditionally women haven’t been welcomed into construction or contracting, many don’t even know of the doorways that could be opened for them. These organisations provide training programs and make connections between contractors and women looking to get into the industry.
The change also has to happen from within contracting companies. Calling out fellow members of staff for sexism or discrimination is a good place to start. It may seem like a small thing to do, but these little changes will gradually transform the face of the industry. If you’re involved in the recruitment of a new position at a contracting company, put forward a woman’s CV for consideration. They are often overlooked by management who assume a woman wouldn’t be qualified for a position. If you’re a site manager choosing contractors for your site, make sure you consider female contractors too. So, if you have the power to make a woman’s CV or talents be seen in your company, do it.
The gender pay gap is a big topic of conversation at the moment, with women in the UK being paid on average 11.9% less than men. Construction unfortunately falls under this rate, with women in construction being paid 14% less than men. Why would women be enticed into an industry where they can almost guarantee that they’ll be paid less than their male counterparts? Stricter gender pay rules need to be enforced in construction and contracting and again, women need to be considered for higher paid positions.
Currently, society is moving forward in the right direction. Although it may seem like a long way away, gender equality in construction and contracting is possible. All it takes is inclusion, awareness and motivation.