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Future for Women in Construction

Posted by: Anders Elite

Industry experts discuss the future for women in construction

I recently wrote a piece for our Anderselite blog talking about the lack of women in the construction industry. It turns out that I tapped into something that created a lot of interest and after publishing it on LinkedIn it has had over a 1,000 views! There was some fascinating feedback – from those who reminisced about how it was in their day, ideas about why more women would be good for the industry and people sharing their current experiences. It was amazing to really get a feel for what is happening worldwide in this area!

It was particularly interesting to get a male perspective on this issue. Stephen Flounders commented on the LinkedIn piece, saying:

“Good article. I think that the industry needs to take a step back from simply pledging to increase female uptake by x% per year and look at the root of the problem. More needs to be done in schools, colleges and universities to make construction, engineering and other trades appeal to women as worthwhile careers where they will be respected and succeed.”

Another of the comments I received was from Justine Taylor, a Community Engagement Manager. Justine raised the issue of there being plenty of women working in the Interior Design and Architecture sectors but not in the Built Environment industry – including civil engineering. Even though both are design-based, she notes, only the 'softer' roles are populated by women.

 I was really interested in learning more about Justine’s perspective so I got in touch with her to discuss it. Part of her role entails going into schools and colleges to educate people about careers in engineering and construction – during this Justine noticed a distinct lack of role models in schools for girls in these industries and sees this is the first stumbling block for women going into the engineering industry. Recalling the history of women in engineering – particularly their importance in manufacturing during the two World Wars, Justine doesn’t see any evidence that women can’t or shouldn’t excel in what are perceived to be ‘masculine’ roles. Citing the importance of maintaining girls’ interests in maths and physics at an early age in school, Justine thinks there are great careers to be had with clear opportunities for progression.
In the course of our discussion Justine mentioned a former colleague to me, Liane Davies Sheppard. Liane is a chartered civil engineer and I took the opportunity to talk to her directly about her experiences as a woman in a male dominated industry. Liane said that she loved maths at school and had been lucky enough at college to have a maths tutor who’d previously worked as a civil engineer. When she wasn’t sure which path to follow using her love of maths, he introduced her to Engineering– a degree she’d never previously considered.

She acknowledges that when she went to university to complete her studies she had no female role models to look to. However, she is adamant that she’s never felt that she was treated differently. She gave an example of one of her first site visits:

“I had to visit a site and it was the first time I’d done this independently. I spoke beforehand to my manager, who really was a great mentor to me, and he told me to stand my ground and have courage in my convictions. So I went to the site to check the base of a retaining wall and it quickly became apparent there that the steel work did not tie up with the drawings. The site team which included everyone from the carpenters to the site managers – all men – were waiting for the go ahead for the concrete pour, and I had to put the concrete pour on hold whilst they corrected the steelwork. Neither the site manager nor the trades were happy as they wanted to get a move on, but I had to be confident in my knowledge and expertise and not be intimidated. It was the right thing to do. And it was worth it, because the next time I went to check the work the site team had listened respectfully to my opinion without any problems.”

Liane spoke clearly about the need to earn respect in the industry, whether you’re a man or a woman. Both Liane and Justine work with schoolchildren, educating them about the opportunities out there. They’re both passionate advocates of encouraging girls in particular into different industries. Women still only make up one seventh of all engineers at university. Both Justine and Liane identified the importance of instilling passion at a young age – Justine’s comments on girls needing engineering role models ring true and Liane recalls how she’d always played with Lego as a child and she felt this definitely was an influence on her.

Justine and Liane both agree that the industry is getting there, slowly. They’d like to see more encouragement at primary schools, more visible role models shown to girls and an effort to target girls at the vital stage of picking GCSEs – where girls very sharply drop out of science and maths-related subjects which are both crucial for engineering. They also gave advice to women who are new to the industry – network, ensure you have a strong mentor (male or female) and to be confident in your skills and qualifications. Earn respect by talking and engaging with those around you.

I asked Liane about the future and she’s very positive. She encourages her colleagues and peers to go out to schools and engage by acting as role models. She sees the initiatives that are happening now to encourage girls into the trades as a great sign and points out there was no such encouragement when she was at school.

I’m so pleased that my piece stimulated debate in this interesting area. I’m going to be keeping an eye out in the future to see what else I can find out about women moving further into the construction industry. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this so please leave a comment below!

By Lucy Morton-Haworth
Principal Recruitment Consultant

Tagged In: Construction
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