Building the Right Bridges: Women in UK Construction
08th June 2021
Between the aftershocks of Brexit, an ongoing pandemic and a potentially catastrophic skills shortage, the building trade can no longer afford to be slamming doors it should be wedging permanently open. Simply put, there still aren’t nearly enough women in construction. The industry’s charging headlong toward the skills shortfall cliff edge, and is starting to understand how badly it needs to change course.
Let’s look at some of the basic numbers:
- 14% of the UK's construction workforce is female.
- 50% of building firms have never had a single female manager.
- 47% of companies have no women on their boards.
- 20% of UK construction firms have never taken on a woman in a senior role.
- 15% financial performance advantage is gained by increasing gender diversity alone.
With those statistics laying the groundwork, you start to see the scale of the problem. Construction’s tough to get into for women – assuming they’ve ever been encouraged to consider a career in the industry at all. Mostly, they tend to be funnelled into admin roles with no serious promotion prospects. Dead-end jobs are hard to get people excited about and difficult to fill with good, skilled workers. Any time you employ someone, you’re making an investment that needs room to grow – and construction’s got massive potential that too often can’t been seen from the outside. The key is to make sure that, at every level, the doors are just as open to women as to men.
Obviously, cramming a foot in the door is only the start of it. Construction’s already got a lot of problems when it comes to tackling mental health, and can be a pretty toxic environment at times. Close to 1 in 3 women in the building trade have suffered harassment or at work – and that number’s probably just the tip of a very ugly iceberg. The danger of getting labelled as a “troublemaker” keeps a lot of complaints from ever being made.
Here’s the thing, though. Construction ‘s already come a long way from the old stereotypes of “hard men in hard hats doing hard work”. In some respects, it’s actually one of the more accepting and open UK industries. Just look at the way it sees beyond the prejudices around employing ex-offenders, for instance. Even so, women are still kind of a blind spot for the building trade – and that bias kicks in early and runs deep. Boys are still given construction-based toys much more often than girls, for example. Closing someone’s mind to the possibilities of a construction career is just as bad as slamming a door in their face.
So what’s being done to bring more women into the construction industry? As it turns out, at least a few things are starting to move in the right direction. As part of a broader policy of modernising, Laing O’Rourke has announced that it’s aiming to employ as many women as men by 2033. With a global workforce of around 5,500 people, that’s a pretty ambitious target. As their CEO, Ray O’Rourke, puts it:
“We’ve made progress delivering our environmental plan, but the simple fact is the climate emergency demands we do more and with greater urgency. The same is true of diversity, which remains unacceptably low in our sector.”
The truth is, a lot of what’s being done to make construction more accessible to women actually benefits everyone. More flexible working hours, more effective complaints procedures and better training techniques are an undeniable boost to the whole industry.
Laing O’Rourke‘s goal is mostly about boosting the number of women in project management and other office jobs, but they’ve also got plans for increasing diversity among their on-site workers. With that 50% goal in mind, they’re actively gearing their recruitment, sponsorship and referral systems around encouraging female applicants.
If there’s one area where women are lagging behind men unnecessarily, and with a fairly easy fix, it’s in claiming their yearly tax refunds. An amazing £300 million in construction industry refunds is going unclaimed each year. Given that you can claim what you’re owed for up to 4 previous tax years, that means UK construction workers are owed as much as £1.2 billion at any time. Worse still, most never even realise that they’re missing out.
There’s literally no reason to leave your refund cash in HMRC’s hands. RIFT has been looking out for building trade workers since 1999. We’re the UK’s leading experts at making sure the taxman always plays fair. It costs nothing to find out if you have a claim, so find out for free what you're owed.