Chithra Marsh is national chair of Women in Property and associate director of Buttress Architects
While International Women’s Day 2023 (IWD 2023) creates an annual talking point on gender issues, the conversation goes on 365 days a year – or should. And while there are still clear disparities for women working in the construction industry, it is inclusion that is the wider concern. When a business starts to reflect society, it becomes more inclusive, which is good for women and better for all of us. Getting there doesn’t happen overnight and businesses won’t have all the answers straight away, but there are a few basics that are reasonably easy to implement.
How visible are the women working in your business? What does your business look like from the outside – women bring valuable skills and experience but is your business attractive to them?
This isn’t just about women, either. The same applies to non-white people and people with a disability – and we’re talking inclusion in its widest sense and not just paying lip-service. This industry seems to suffer from a year-on-year skills crisis, so businesses need to maximise every opportunity to recruit from the deepest pool of talented people. Ignore them at your peril.
Listen and learn
Talking is all-important. Find out what the women working in your business want, then be honest in what you can deliver and what you can afford to do. Communication goes a long way towards understanding.
The same thing applies to the next generation, our future skilled workforce. Young people now are interested in a lot more than salary. They want to work somewhere that has the same values, ethos, environmental goals, and so on. Listen to what they have to say. How do you stack up?
The career pipeline
A key issue for women is the mid-career phase, when they might want to start a family or are in danger of burnout (both of these are not just applicable to women) and then flexibility becomes all-important. Don’t lose great staff because you haven’t tackled flexibility even after the lessons of the pandemic. Again, talk to your teams about what they want and need from them, and reach a transparent, workable goal.
And don’t forget age – don’t miss out on skilled people that you might perceive as “too old”. Many women, sometimes returning after a period out of the industry or simply moving into different roles, have excellent transferrable skills that will reap dividends for you. Our former national chair, Nicola Jones from Gleeds, is a great example of this – she moved into a different role 11 years ago and has had a stellar career ever since.
The gender pay gap
This should go without saying, but are you tackling it? We know there are real complexities in how it is reported but, whether you’re above the 250-plus employee reporting threshold or not, working towards equitable pay for people doing the same job speaks volumes about how an organisation values its women employees.
This might seem a curious one but you’d be amazed how often women are presented with ill-fitting and therefore dangerous PPE. Huge boots, outsized high-vis jackets… would you put up with that on a busy construction site?
All of this is pretty straightforward, we’re not asking for major corporate change. Just a level playing field.
This article was published on 8 March to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) 2023.
This year Construction News and New Civil Engineer are once again joining forces to champion the role of women in construction and engineering. The Inspiring Women in Construction Awards and conference will take place in London in October.
Enter the 2023 awards and/or book your place at the event