New childcare support measures will drive better diversity in construction

Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith is group people and culture director at Pick Everard

This year’s Budget centred around getting those who want to work, back to work. With extended childcare support for one-to-two-year-olds being the headline announcement, there is now a great opportunity to tackle one of construction’s biggest challenges – improving diversity.

Being unable to access or afford childcare is seen as a significant barrier to work and is something that disproportionately impacts women. Indeed, recent TUC analysis revealed 1.46 million women are kept out of the labour market because of their caring responsibilities, with one in ten women in their 30s dropping out of the jobs market. Meanwhile, further research shows that women who continue to work after becoming mothers see a reduction in average working hours to less than 30 per week.

“More childcare support… provides a golden opportunity for construction to tackle its longstanding diversity issue”

The announced changes apply to early years children and seek to unlock work for those who have either felt pressured to reduce their hours or give up work completely to care for their young families. Equally, the move for more “wraparound” care for school-age children helps to support more flexibility for workers. With more provision and a flexible approach to working hours from employers, caregivers will be able to manage their time more effectively, without being tied to strict school pick-up or office hours. It will unlock the pursuit of new career opportunities or time to develop new skills that are much-needed across the industry.

Of course, while societal and financial pressures on those starting families disproportionately affects women, every family set-up is different. The key is that more childcare support opens opportunities for those who would otherwise be full-time caregivers – and this provides a golden opportunity for construction to tackle its longstanding diversity issue.

But childcare support is not a silver bullet. For a long time, the construction sector has struggled to attract and retain as many women as men, and while progress is being made, there are still sticking points. For example, the latest McKinsey report demonstrates a lack of diversity at the top of construction firms. Despite improvements, only 16 per cent of women in construction are in executive roles, with just 2 per cent being company CEOs.

Shifting the culture

A cultural shift is needed. The majority of female leaders do not find problems in their leadership ability and the recognition that is received, instead noting their experiences of a culture built around an “old boys’ network”, making decision-making much more challenging. Equally, difficulties around working on site were also noted, with the live site environment physically built around men, creating additional inconveniences to women being able to perform in their role.

This all being said, the outlook is positive. The number of women in construction is growing, enhanced by greater flexibility and agile working opportunities now being commonplace across the industry. This is supported by concerted efforts to develop and drive “female readiness”, as women pursue more senior positions.

Collectively, we must showcase the opportunity and flexibility to grow varied, rewarding and fruitful careers in construction to bring people in – and keep them. Female role models are being spotlighted more to ensure people are inspired by others, while young female students can see themselves in those operating across the sector.

It’s through this industry-wide effort and collaboration with education providers that career potential can be effectively showcased. It will serve to attract more female talent from the hundreds and thousands of people the new childcare support measures will help.

Efforts will be refocused to continue the drive for inclusion and diversity in construction, enabling more women – and other caregivers – to achieve their full potential, without having to choose between that and affording childcare.

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