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Why do we have a lack of female staff in construction?

Posted by: Anders Elite

Queue the jokes about women driving/parking/better off in the kitchen etc. That’s outdated and uninteresting - let’s look at it from a different angle, from a female perspective! 

As a career girl, I read so many forums and articles about the lack of a female presence everywhere – from Formula 1 to board directors to the construction industry, and it’s got me wondering why we’re in this situation. During WW2 whilst the men were away at war, women took up their positions in munitions and aeroplane factories – and guess what – they did well! That was 70 years ago – why have we taken such a backwards step?

I was lucky and attended a private school where all children attended compulsory design technology (DT) classes – and I loved it!! We had an incredible automotive workshop. I vividly remember wanting to be an engineer, or a racing driver – and found myself featured in the Sunday Times motoring supplement hoping to be the youngest driver of a self-built electric land speed record attempt car aged 11 years old.   Sadly the project never really got off the ground; the only DT teacher that believed a group of girls wanted to do this and took us seriously left his job for some reason or another and no-one was willing to take up the mantle in his place to help and guide us. He taught me to arc weld and rivet and panel beat.  I’d all but forgotten this period of my life, until I was wandering around Halfords the other day - and saw my old teacher’s photo on the front of a book teaching kids how to make kit cars. And I missed him like a lost grandparent!

The thing is, at school, it wasn’t cool to like this stuff. Especially if you were a girl. It was about the art class or Drama or Music or languages. I also can’t help but feel that engineering or science wasn’t sold as an option to people unless you were exceptionally talented. I don’t think I’m alone with this experience. There have been countless publications about students (male & female) looking to take the “softer” subjects at GCSE and A Level. Choosing my A-levels was based on what I thought would be easy to do well at – and what my careers department thought I could do easily – I was a coaster, and bar the DT teacher, I never really came across anyone that inspired me. So I took the easy option. What I craved was someone to guide me, a great influence and good leader. When I found that person, in my AS level year, I’d already given up on education altogether. My friends were counting UCAS points and I was looking for a boat to refurbish. I was considered a “drop-out”.

By the time kids are attending careers guidance – it’s too late. They’ve already been socially conditioned to have ideas of acceptable jobs – what’s cool and what’s not. This is where the boys at my school were different: their dads were Directors, Chartered Engineers, or Chartered Surveyors. It just wasn’t even sold as an option for a career to me, even though I was good at science and maths and building things.

The face of construction is changing. Currently, women make up just 11% of the UK construction industry, and only 1% of manual trades. With pledges by top firms such as Laing O'Rourke announcing 30% of their new apprentices will be female, the industry is certainly looking up; however the lack of exposure to construction careers at a younger age will continue to ensure that the industry continues to miss it’s targets with regards to gender equality, but more urgently pressing – the industry is already in, and continues to face, a severe skills shortage.  We need to educate the girls as well as the boys that engineering really is a viable career option. There’s not quite any satisfaction in the world like looking at something and saying: “I built that.” 

By Lucy Morton-Haworth
Principal Recruitment Consultant
Tagged In: Construction
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