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Why the construction sector needs to embrace gender diversity

Why the construction sector needs to embrace gender diversity
With the construction sector facing a major skills shortage and undergoing a rapid digital transformation, the time is right to create a more inclusive industry.

According to a Forbes study, diverse companies produce 19% more earnings than their counterparts, with diverse workforces not only generating greater revenue, but also contributing a wider range of benefits, including increased productivity and heightened company reputation.

However, when it comes to the construction industry, there is still a major gap in gender equality, with recent studies showing that the construction workforce comprises of only 9.9% of women in the US, and 12.8% in the UK. Countries like Canada and Australia report similar figures, with the latter finding only 12% of an estimated one million strong workforce are women. In professional positions, this rises to 14%, but falls dramatically in the trades to less than two percent.

These figures represent a challenge to the industry, given that globally, it is facing a shortage of skilled labour. Therefore, it is imperative that the construction sector wake up to the fact that the labour shortage challenge is not going to be solved unless it becomes more inclusive and diversified.

A similar pattern can be also be seen in the technology industry, where women software hires have increased by only two percent over the last 20 years. In fact, women currently remain highly underrepresented in software engineering, making up just 14% of the overall workforce, and computer science-related jobs, where they account for just 25% of the workforce.

However, paradoxically, while these two industries may not offer many opportunities to women on their own, when brought together, they create opportunities that previously may not have existed.

As we all know, the construction sector is moving towards a digital future, hastened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. What is startling about the industry’s digital transformation is how rapidly it is happening, and how urgently companies require the right skills and knowledge if they are to successfully manage their transition.

What this does is open a window of opportunity to women as it removes many of the traditional barriers to entry to such a ‘male dominated industry’, research by the University of Central Lancashire has found.

The historical requirement for physical strength, for example, to work in construction is now being countered by the digitalisation of the industry, where automation and robotics are increasingly performing these tasks, a paper published by the university says.

In turn, this could also dilute the existing preconceptions of construction workers – at least on site and in professional disciplines – needing to be men, with all the associated biases that come with that.

The emerging construction digital workspace also provides greater flexibility and adaptability for women in the built environment professions, as it offers both men and women a chance to operate in a new, location-independent, flexible environment and apply new skills and approaches as the sector evolves.

However, for companies to fully embrace the opportunities that a digitally enabled construction sector provides, this transformation needs to be met by a cultural shift as well. The sector’s traditional mind-set of long hours and being seen at work needs to change so as to allow all genders an opportunity to manage potential home-life commitments, define new career roles and reward structures, so that construction can maximise the potential of the talent pool at their disposal.

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