The better female representation we have the better it will get

women in construction

Construction is traditionally viewed as a male-dominated sector, but three female leaders at one of the UK’s fastest-growing affordable housebuilders outline their experiences, tips for those looking to get into and progress within the sector, and how driving greater inclusion will remain of critical importance to the future of the industry.

By Samantha Knight, Group HR Director, Alice Best, Head of Organisational Development, and Sarah Rochelle, Senior Ecologist at MJ Gleeson plc.

Many might think working in a predominantly male sector would come with its fair share of challenges as a woman. And they wouldn’t be wrong.

Throughout our careers to date, we’ve heard of or even experienced ourselves a multitude of challenges impacting women specifically, spanning from practical inconveniences like the absence of female toilets on construction sites, basic equipment being stored out of reach, and the struggle of finding personal protective gear that fits smaller female frames. Beyond these logistical hurdles can lie deeper issues, too, as natural biases that exist in this and other industries can threaten to undermine the professionalism and expertise of women, and lead to damaging assumptions being made about our capabilities and leadership.

As female professionals and senior leaders currently working at MJ Gleeson, a leading low-cost homebuilder serving the North of England and Midlands, there is a lot that we are already doing both individually and as an organisation to support the next generation of talent coming through. This is true throughout the year, but we are celebrating these efforts and the progress we have made so far this International Women’s Day.

Examples include our extensive apprenticeship programme of 67 apprentices, our learning & development opportunities, and our partnership with Investors in People (IIP), where together we are working towards embedding a globally recognised IIP framework to benchmark our people practices and drive continuous improvement, fostering a great workplace environment for everyone at Gleeson.

But there is so much more we can do to improve the perceptions that dominate the industry and build an ever-more inclusive working environment for women within our business and the construction industry as a whole. Our new Group HR Director, one of the authors of this article, believes in a two-pronged approach, which is set to broadly guide her areas of focus within her new role.

Firstly, normalising the presence of women in traditionally male roles would help break down barriers and attract more women into the industry. In recent years, we’ve seen an uptick in organisations launching attraction and development campaigns targeting women in the industry, leading to a noticeable increase in female representation in the sector. However, despite this progress, statistics indicate that there is still more that can be done. As there is such a variety of opportunities within the sector, it’s important that we truly share this and increase understanding of what the industry has to offer in terms of job roles, careers and development opportunities. By increasing knowledge about the diverse career pathways within the construction industry—including Site Management, Trades, Engineering, Finance, Quantity Surveying, Business Analysis, Sales, and more—coupled with great role models and ambitious individuals eager to work hard and grow professionally, we will witness a greater influx of women into the industry in the future.

Secondly, we must ensure that these roles are accessible by challenging stereotypes and casting a wide net when recruiting. We need to do more to promote opportunities and pathways within our sector for women of all ages and backgrounds. This includes initiatives targeted at girls just leaving school, women returning to work after career breaks, or those seeking to change careers later in life.

But to attract more women into housebuilding across all levels, our focus must extend beyond just recruiting new and junior female workers. Retention is equally crucial, and this requires creating a workplace that is fair and equal for all employees. We can achieve this by addressing internal biases through training, raising awareness, and ensuring all employees, regardless of gender, are involved in decision-making processes to embrace diverse perspectives.

Housebuilding is an honest, hard-working, straight-talking industry, consisting of amazing people who genuinely care about others, the difference they are making, the purpose of building homes, the environment and so much more. We want more women to be a part of this great industry and, ultimately, the better inclusion of female talent and female representation we have the better it will get.

To conclude, our HR Director, Sam Knight, shares three reasons why women may wish to consider a career within the construction industry:

  1. The industry offers competitive salaries, fantastic progression opportunities and benefits
  2. There is a wide variety of roles and diverse career paths
  3. You can gain access to a plethora of skills development training

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