Many young women end up working in female-dominated sectors, such as early-years childcare and hairdressing, where wages are lower and there is less chance of career progression, according to the Underrepresentation by gender and race in apprenticeships report. Women make up only 11 per cent of the construction workforce and just 1 per cent of workers on site. The Office for National Statistics says that the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low that it is unmeasurable. UCATT carried out a survey of women construction workers to find out more about the challenges they face and to raise awareness of the issues among its male membership. It found that: More than half (51%) said they were treated worse at work simply because of their gender. The top three problems were: a lack of promotion prospects; lower pay than their male colleagues; and feeling isolated.
From these figures, it is clear to see that construction is an industry perched on or at least near the top of the "super male-dominated industries" spectrum. Certainly, female on-site construction workers are scarce, but women are almost as underrepresented in the industry at large. I posted a picture on my LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/aimee-mcsorley-20428a10a?trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile) asking for women in the industry to share their thoughts with me for this blog and I was overwhelmed by the response. I decided to get feedback from two of the women, Sarah, a Project Manager in London and Lori a Project Manager in Groestar.
Both women were of the same opinion overall, that it very much still is a male dominated industry but as women working in this sector, they feel they are very much treated fairly and equal. They did however explain that a few times they had been mistaken for a secretary or an assistant. Sarah said how she had been mistaken for the Site Managers wife on more than one occasion
Both ladies have worked in the industry for several years now, with a backlog of experience and skills under their belt. Sarah, who has successfully worked as Project Manager on various multi-million projects around the world, told me of her first experience in the industry compared to how it is now was ‘uncomfortable’ to say the least. “I had to manage a site of 100% males, that were 20-30 years my senior.” Elaborating further she said she feels she would have felt uncomfortable in that situation had she been a male herself, but the fact that she was a younger woman telling older men what to do, made her feel very uncomfortable at first. “I had no idea how to approach it, these men were not used to a woman being in my position and I remember them standing there staring blankly at me, it definitely took me a while to adjust in that situation but I soon realized the more you're willing to ask questions and show you're willing to learn from these guys, the more they become comfortable with a young woman being involved with the work and giving them direction. They started to respect me and we were like a family, a community. I didn’t treat them like children or act like I knew better than them, I gave them the respect they deserved and in return gained their respect, they knew I called the shots. Sarah explained “once you find that perfect work balance, working together becomes second nature.” The men initially didn’t know how to react to a woman telling them what to do but soon adapted. “I can walk on to any building site to lead a crew of men now and have absolutely no bother- it is definitively a sign of the changing times where more and more women are being encouraged into the construction industry, by men and women alike. It is fabulous to see as I absolutely love my job!”
When it comes to the actual work, both ladies agree the playing field is fairly level. They felt that a lot is expected of them, being Project Managers however, they also think they get held to the same standards as their male counterparts, which both ladies appreciate. Sarah emphasized that while skill and competence are most important, women in construction absolutely do need to go the extra mile to prove themselves, she comments that 10 years on and she still walks on to site with a “I’m going to show them what I’m made of” attitude and in terms of career progression, it seems women have to be more vocal about their successes in order to get the recognition they deserve, which Sarah admits is something she struggles with “I feel like I am a little kid sometimes, trying to catch their mothers attention to prove what they can do, I definitely feel this is something that could change in the industry, however it is largely down to women being the underdog in society for so many years that I feel in any industry women would act the same way, trying to get a little recognition for their hard work.” In terms of salary, Sarah believe this to be very much a hill woman in the industry are still climbing. “Women still don’t command as high salaries as men and I consider that as discrimination.” She did however note that she believes this largely down to the ‘ballsy’ attitude of men.
Lori’s experience was similarly refreshing “I have worked on construction projects since 2010, at first I felt a little out of my comfort zone when walking on to a site- due to the fact that it was mainly male dominated. It didn’t take me long to get over that feeling- they accepted me easily and understood that I was there to make their lives easier, not harder. Lori feels her position as Project Manager (both principle contractor and M&E Contractor) is one of the most rewarding positions. “Working on projects from drawing to completion with people that have the same end goal as you are really fantastic. Lori believes that being a woman in the industry gives you a slight edge and she would highly recommend any young person, male or female to consider the industry and the various positions that are available.
Overall both ladies feel the future is very much bright for young women in the industry. Sarah’s advice for any young women considering a career in the industry is both Sobering and encouraging “I was never one to follow the rules set by gender, when I was younger my favorite color was green and I played football, I was nicknamed a tomboy. Fast forward 30 years, and I am very much a girl’s girl, with a thriving career in the construction industry. My advice for any young girl who wants to work in the industry is simple, always be aware that you may have to work harder than the guy next to you for the same pay, but also know that you are well suited for your job based on your natural abilities to multi-task and negotiate and that you have earned your position on the site, sure it can feel unfair and the air can sometimes be clouded with sexist remarks but the grass that grows from that air is incredible-the rewards are great when you compile and manage a successful team and project."