100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote, construction remains an industry where women are continually underrepresented, unsupported, and uninspired. Here’s what we are doing to turn the tide.
Identifying the issues
The construction industry has a bad reputation; one of sexism, macho culture, and limited career progression. With an average female workforce across the industry of only 11%, and of only 1% of on-site workers, it’s no wonder construction seems to be falling behind when it comes to representation.
In a recent survey designed by work experience student Chelsey and conducted by the Walker Construction Women in Construction Forum, it was revealed that just 24.7% of girls under the age of 18 would consider a career in construction. Of these, almost all commented that they had concerns about the industry, the opportunities available to them, and the attitudes of their male colleagues. 61% of respondents who said they would consider a career in construction were aged 11-14, making these concerns all the more disheartening.
Conversely, those who said that they would not consider construction as a future career would consider careers in other fields, including engineering, design, architecture, project management, education and training, accounting, and logistics.
So, we have a problem. Young women who are interested in construction are being put off by damaging industry stereotypes, and young women who are not interested in the industry are generally not aware of the diverse range of fields encompassed by and overlapping with construction.
Fixing the problem
The Walker Construction ‘Women in Construction’ Forum was created with the following objectives in mind:
- To become a platform for employees to discuss industry news, opinions, and suggestions
- To promote the role of women in the construction industry across all levels and disciplines
- To connect, support, and empower women throughout Walker Construction and its local communities
- To reach out to local schools and promote careers in construction to young people within the community
As it stands, Walker Construction is not the shining example of representation in the industry we aspire to be. With a female population of 14%, we barely surpass the national average. Where we do stand apart, however, is in our commitment to changing this figure and the perception of our industry.
The first meeting of the Women in Construction Forum saw us identify the issues we face every day at work, the roadblocks that stand in the way of our career progression and happiness at work, and the changes we’d like to make in our community to inspire young women into the construction industry.
5 months on from the first meeting, the women of Walker Construction have engaged in assertiveness training, visited schools to deliver STEM assemblies and speak at careers fayres, got stuck into community projects and have even been nominated for national awards. Training Manager Jeanette McLean was shortlisted as 1 of 12 finalists from a pool of several hundred nominations for Construction News’ inaugural ‘Rising Star’ award, and PR & Marketing guru Charlotte Watts was shortlisted for the NFB Awards’ ‘Inspirational Individual’ award.
Visibility is key, and with the help of our colleagues and senior management Walker Construction has begun to cement its place in history as one of the first Construction companies to transform a promise of inclusion and representation into a reality. This July we were represented by 6 women from across the company, from training assistants to estimators to contracts co-ordinators, alongside Director of Southern Construction, Martin Watts, and Site Manager Paul McLean as the only predominantly female table at the CN Awards ceremony.
This is only the beginning for Walker Construction. The Women in Construction Forum has succeeded in creating a platform for women within the company and inspiring role models in our growing community. Building solid relationships with local schools, and making good on promises to support and represent women, Walker Construction is forging a path forward for the industry.