26th February Journal Column

By Siobhan McMahon-Walsh, National Chair of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)

For women, proving their worth in a male dominated industry has been a long and gruelling task, but we’re now finally at a place where women are equal to men and stereotypes are long gone… or so I thought!

Where we should be, is at a place where women are offered the same opportunities as men, and heads don’t turn when a women is recruited into a senior role. So why was news of a female chair for a construction company classed as headline news last week? People are promoted/hired every day, why must they comment on gender and report it as something out of the ordinary?

Although we have come a long way in terms of recruiting and stereotyping, it’s clear there is still a lot of work to be done.

Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the construction workforce grew by 1.5 per cent between Q3 and Q4 of 2015. Whilst the increase is good news for the industry as a whole, it’s disappointing to see that women only make up 11.2 per cent of these workers.

While it might feel like we are doing a lot to increase women in construction, there have been numerous campaigns to encourage women into the industry and a lot of work has been carried out regarding recruiting, it’s clearly still not enough.

The proportion of women in construction has fallen for three consecutive quarters and is even lower than it was in 1997, so I can’t help but feel that we’re going backwards rather than forwards!

It’s amazing to see that we aren’t going down without a fight. The National Careers Service in the North East have launched a campaign to challenge gender stereotypes in the work place, and with organisations like the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) working so hard, there’s no reason why we can’t turn things around.

Although I agree that we need to up our game in terms of encouraging more women into the industry, I have to say that, especially in the North East, I’ve personally found that attitudes towards women in construction have changed massively and are more positive than ever before. In the 20+ years that I’ve been in construction a lot has changed, equality may not be quite up to the desired level, but they are certainly a lot better than they used to be!

With NAWIC North East celebrating their 4th successful year of encouraging individuals to pursue, establish and sustain successful careers, International Women’s Day coming up on 8th March and the Women in Construction Awards on 23rd March showcasing women across the industry at every level, there are many opportunities to celebrate and raise awareness of women in construction.

There are people, me included, willing to put the work in to change statistics and challenge gender stereotypes, we’ve progressed so much over the last few years and finally brought construction into the 21st century, there’s no reason we can’t keep on going!