Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of women in the UK workplaces, now making up 47% of the workforce. However, the number of women within STEM careers is decreasing year on year. Most concerning of all, whilst 73% of entry-level positions in the UK are filled by women, only 34% of managers, directors and senior officials are female.
It’s not news that we need to improve gender balance and create equal opportunities in the workplace, but by taking a closer look at the construction industry as a case study, we can start to focus on solutions.
We know from our research at RICS that the gender imbalance is tangible in the construction sector – the projections are that it will take at least 40 years for the surveying profession to reach equal representation of men and women, from current numbers of just 14% of RICS female professionals.
There are many benefits to encouraging more women into work especially within careers in the built environment. Promoting equal opportunities, fairness and diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do but it also makes business sense.
Indeed, according to McKinsey research, bridging the UK gender gap in work has the potential to create an extra £150 billion on top of business-as-usual GDP forecasts in 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees. Businesses that want to be future ready need to make this a business priority – by 2025, millennials will account for roughly 75% of the workforce by 2025, and over 50% of them will be female.
Leaders simply cannot afford to ignore the issue.
So how can we use the construction sector to illustrate how businesses more broadly can ensure that they attract and retain the best talent, regardless of gender?
Changing the perception of the industry
The first step is addressing perceptions of the construction sector and tackling misconceptions that put women off applying for roles.
Business leaders need to take a hard look at their organisations’ image and reputation. RICS recently conducted some research into gender stereotyping and found that nearly 40% (38%) of men believe their skills are better suited to the sector than women, whilst 29% of young women believe the industry is only for men.
Companies need to increase confidence in the new generation of women that their skills and expertise will not only be recognised, but valued. We recently invited vloggers Eve Bennett and Ali A to spend a day in the life of a surveyor to help educate and inspire young women to consider a career in the built environment.
A record in Equality and Diversity
However, changing perceptions isn’t enough and a real commitment from employers is key.
Businesses need to ensure their internal policies reflect their external commitments - it becomes obvious very quickly if Diversity & Inclusion policies are used as a tick box exercises with no leadership backing. Millennials, both male and female, are more likely than previous generations to consider a company’s policies and track record on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, before applying for a role.
Our research found that workers want organisations to do more, with nearly 39% of those in the construction industry believing companies are not doing enough to attract females into the sector.
To remain competitive and retain credibility in the war for talent, companies must do more than “talk the talk” and instead focus on targeted programmes and approaches delivering tangible results. A provable record on Diversity and Inclusion will increase employee engagement and foster loyalty amongst teams, which will lead to better retention.
All progress should be tracked and communicated clearly to employees, to drive transparency and monitor improvements.
The RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark (IEQM), the first Diversity and Inclusion benchmark for the construction, property and infrastructure industry, is one tool businesses can adopt to drive behaviour change by encouraging all firms, large and small, to look carefully at their employment practices and put inclusivity at the heart of what they do.
Invest in training
Moreover, according to our recent RICS survey, 42% of those surveyed believe companies need to invest more in training their existing female employees, so they have the skills and tools to progress.
Equally, those in the sector want to see businesses investing in the future pipeline of talent to build a diverse workforce, with 40% believing that companies need to invest more in encouraging young girls to pursue a career in construction, so that more women enter the profession. It is therefore essential for companies to look at ways to invest in targeted recruitment drives to engage with young women and inspire them to consider the breadth of options available within the industry.
Too many women automatically assume they will be the only woman on a construction site. Profiling role models who illustrate the diverse set of skills needed to succeed in the sector will help inspire young women to consider pursuing a career in construction.
Embedding new ways of working
Flexible working is key to attracting and retaining women, with over a third of women (35%) in our RICS survey identifying more flexible hours as a means to encourage them to stay in the sector.
It is the responsibility of senior leaders to set the precedent and create a culture where working from home, or working part time, is respected and promoted.
Investing in flexibility will help accelerate talented women’s progression to senior leadership positions, giving them the capacity to juggle multiple commitments.
Explore new routes into the profession
As part of the recruitment drive amongst young women, businesses need to promote the benefits of taking a vocational route, via an apprenticeship, to help position this as an attractive option.
Apprenticeships are a vital source for building a diverse pipeline of talent. We’ve seen a positive uplift in the diversity of candidates entering the profession since the apprenticeship levy was introduced.
By working collaboratively across the industry and championing best practice examples of businesses that follow these steps, we will start to a culture where women and diverse talent can thrive.
Changing the perception of the industry will take time, but there are fantastic opportunities in the built environment for women and future female leaders.