We need to build a bridge between genders in the building industry

Gender equality is an issue across the entire workplace, and nowhere more so than within the building industry.

We need to build a bridge between genders in the building industry

Gender equality is an issue across the entire workplace, and nowhere more so than within the building industry, writes John Daly.

A recent survey commissioned by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) showed that over 70% of companies recognise the need for more women in the industry. Yet on average, only one out of 10 construction workers are female.

Last month’s CSO Labour Force Survey showed direct employment in the sector at 137,400 — an increase of 25,000, or 22%, since the corresponding period in 2016.

The industry’s demand for skills to deliver Ireland’s urgent housing and infrastructure offers a significant opportunity for female workers to narrow the long-standing gender gap.

Director of industrial relations and employment services with CIF and chair of the #BuildingEquality working group, Jean Winters said: “Increasing diversity and gender equality is not just the right thing to do, it is critical for our industry.

As the construction sector recovers and evolves, we are increasingly competing with other industries for talented young people who are concerned about equality and diversity

In order to meet the ambition of government strategies, more women must be attracted into an industry where “careers have become more family-friendly, more technology driven, less physically demanding and increasingly global in recent years”, she said.

It is time to change the view that construction is “just for the boys”, Ms Winters added.

But while the industry, like society in general, has become more open and diverse, many traditional stereotypes still exist, particularly in industries which have historically been male-dominated.

“Anything is possible if you put your mind to it — that’s the message I’d share with every woman who wants to build a career in construction,” said Phil Kane, country manager for Eaton Corporation.

Headquartered in Dublin, Eaton is a multinational power management company with annual sales of almost €20bn and 96,000 employees.

Ms Kane added: “My childhood certainly left me with a roll-up-your-sleeves mindset. What I say is, don’t wait for anyone’s permission to change the status quo — the opportunities are out there.

“If you’re inspired to build a career in construction, roll up your sleeves and get on with it.”

Ahead of her address to the CIF Annual Conference tomorrow, Sandi Rhys Jones, management consultant and lifelong champion for women in construction, said:

I believe that an increasing number of men are married to women with their own careers and who have daughters who say, ‘Well, why can’t I do that?

“My belief is that you need hard facts, you need the figures and you need a sense of humour. If you’ve got those, then you have the opportunity to start doing things that will shift the dial.”

A Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building and of the Women’s Engineering Society, she was appointed OBE in Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday Honours List in 1998 for promoting opportunities for women in the construction industry.

“It is 21 years since I said that if the industry really wanted to show it was serious about gender diversity then it could start by introducing real equal pay for equal work.

“On the other hand, we are talking about diversity and very openly, and you don’t clear a conference room in three seconds anymore if you talk about gender diversity, which used to be the case,” she added.

Much depends on committed individuals who can help organisations shift to bring about change, and she cites two huge London engineering projects, Crossrail and Tideway, led by two men totally committed to diversity.

“They are achieving a difference, with Tideway aiming for a 50% female workforce by project completion in 2023, and have already reached 37%.

“Crossrail has women working at all levels, with one-in-three of the team female. I cannot overstress the importance of individual champions who stand up and make things happen,” Ms Rhys Jone said.

In a presentation entitled ‘The slump test: addressing the gender mix in your firm,’ at tomorrow’s conference, Ms Rhys Jones suggests that: “The changes needed to encourage and support more women are changes that will benefit men too. Maybe that time has now come.”

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