Of the 2.3 million people working in the construction industry at the end of December last year, only 296,000 were women (according to the Office for National Statistics). That’s roughly 13%.

So, on the day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in engineering and technical roles, I find myself chewing over why the construction industry is still failing to attract more women?

Skills shortage  

The construction industry is desperate to attract new recruits’ due to a major skills shortage.

We’ve talked before about a declining domestic talent pool but at the last count, there were 13.3 million women at work in the UK.  Clearly construction businesses are missing out on a huge, and untapped resource.

Our economic future, particularly now, one year on from the vote to leave the EU, could be made less uncertain if the construction industry were to finally break free from its traditionally misogynistic and sexist reputation, and further diversify their workforce.

In fact, it was only earlier today that WISE, Semta and the ICE launched a business toolkit to help employers of traditionally male-dominated jobs reach out to women and girls.  It shares examples of what companies, like Babcock, have done to successfully recruit women into ‘jobs for boys’.

Encouragingly, there are some signs of change within the industry but significant challenges have still to be faced if the industry is to success in building (pardon the pun) a better, diversified, workplace.

Gender pay gap

Research shows that whilst men and women start their careers on a par, as they progress men earn significantly more than their female counterparts. This means that fewer women are likely to stay the course as earning potential becomes limited.

So, having attracted women to the industry, and invested in their qualifications and training, the inherent (and expanding) gender pay gap means businesses risk losing their investment because there is disparity of pay the higher into management a woman progresses.

Education is key

Academically, girls do better at school than boys but this success doesn’t correlate with their careers, or pay. There is evidence to suggest that career choices are influenced at a very early age and are somewhat stereotypical: ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’.

Opportunities are aplenty but the construction industry fails to highlight them. A recent survey of women aged 16-25 years revealed that 29% of them believed that ‘construction’ meant onsite work only. In truth, many of the women employed in the industry are hired at executive, manager and director levels.

In the formative school years, it’s crucial that we broaden girls’ aspirations about their own career options and make historically male-dominated jobs more appealing to women.

Whilst it’s very much evident that some firms are embracing the challenge of attracting more women into the industry, it’s also abundantly clear that, overall, the industry needs to adopt a better strategy for attracting and retaining women.

A number of years ago I read an article that said woman entering a world of work with a longstanding reputation for inequality required “guts, determination and tenacity (but not balls, thank you)” to succeed. Touché. 


Pia England is director of executive search company Mackenzie England.  Based in central Scotland, serving the whole of the UK and working internationally, Pia and business partner Martin pride themselves in being distinctly different; they explore all options to help their clients identify and attract exceptional talent.  They will always be straightforward and honest, providing you with independent advice and guidance.  If you’d like to find out more please get in touch


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