When it comes to achieving gender parity in any sector I don’t think we can overestimate the power of representation. Highlighting the women, coming from all backgrounds, who are employed in the sector and the variety of jobs they perform is vital in raising the next generation’s expectations and overriding myths around construction. The media can often present construction solely in terms of onsite working, ignoring the vast iceberg of other roles crucial in taking a project from the idea stage right through to the ribbon cutting, and we must work to combat this misconception.
One way to do this is through running more industry events to assist women, promote the range of jobs available and establish a network of support for each other. I’m a member of the Association of Women in Property and chair the South East Committee and our work involves helping students and young professionals take their first steps into the sector but also tackle together the issues found at every level. Pooling our knowledge and experience helps us all identify areas for improvement and work to make the changes that are needed. And such communities are also important in creating a support network with others who understand the industry and its challenges and opportunities.
Practical changes which can be made by construction companies of any size involve incorporating flexible working practices, which benefit employees of any gender and can help de-stigmatise issues around childcare. Establishing safe, easily accessible channels of communication through which to flag discriminatory behaviour is critical in any industry, construction included. And taking the time to invest in and encourage young women through internships, apprenticeships and work experience will also go a long, long way towards achieving equality.
When you enter any male dominated sector there can be a sense, both internal and external, that you’re an anomaly. At ITC I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by a number of amazing, talented women who are absolute experts in their field but it’s true that at many industry events the women are few and far between. There’s no denying it can be hard to rewrite a long, ingrained history but hard doesn’t mean impossible and we’ve already seen so much progress.