Friday 20 April 2018

Jean Winters: Building sector needs women to thrive

'Our industry recognises that it is in a war for talent against other professions that are considered more female-friendly.' (Stock picture)
'Our industry recognises that it is in a war for talent against other professions that are considered more female-friendly.' (Stock picture)

Jean Winters

Irish Construction needs to employ more women if the industry is to have a sustainable future. The CSO estimates that only 5.5pc of the workforce across all construction-related sectors are women. And a recent survey of Construction Industry Federation (CIF) members showed that only one in 10 employees in their organisations is female.

Unsurprisingly, 99pc of employees working on construction sites are male. However, offsite, in construction offices, gender balance is better at 56pc male and 44pc female.

However, this balance is not reflected at the top of construction companies where only 3pc of CEOs and 10pc of company directors are women.

Addressing these imbalances is more than a moral issue. It's good business for our industry in the face of its ongoing productivity challenge and an imminent skills shortage.

For example, in 2016, the CIF and Further Education and Training Authority Solas identified the need for an additional 112,000 workers to meet Ireland's housing and infrastructure requirements. We cannot do this only drawing from the 50pc of the population in the male talent pool.

Our failure to attract, retain and develop female talent also has implications for Irish society and its economy.

Without female talent, the industry's efforts to deliver critical Government strategies in housing and infrastructure such as Rebuilding Ireland, the National Development Plan and the National Planning Framework will most likely fall short.

Our industry recognises that it is in a war for talent against other professions that are considered more female-friendly. In 10 years, millennials will account for nearly 75pc of the Irish workforce and young people expect diversity and inclusion.

It is not just some lofty goal for them, it encourages them to join one company over another, or indeed one industry over another. In other words, the inherent gender imbalance in the construction industry is switching off this generation of younger people, both male and female.

Our survey shows that construction companies are aware of this threat to their medium-term future. Almost three-quarters (71pc) of respondents believe that the construction sector would benefit from attracting more women into the industry.

However, it is not enough to simply recognise the problem. While 91pc of those surveyed see adopting a gender-inclusive environment as important, only 61pc are taking steps to do so. While 80pc of respondents believe that is important to have gender-bias training for all staff engaged in recruitment, just 13pc have this in place.

We all need to do more to proactively facilitate women in the industry and to influence young girls to choose construction as a career. This includes addressing the education system where we believe young girls are dissuaded from considering any form of career in construction at primary and secondary level. The CIF has been working with several schools, industry leaders and state agencies to address this type of gender stereotyping as it diverts 50pc of future talent from our industry.

The impact of this stereotyping at primary and secondary levels follows through into the workplace. Almost half - 44pc - of respondents believe gender stereotyping is the main contributing factor in the shortage of women in construction, while 40pc suggest that the industry is simply not viewed as attractive to women.

The industry is trying to communicate the benefits and rewards of a career in construction to young women considering their options at second level.

Careers in construction have changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Better health and safety and increased use of technology are two trends making construction more attractive to young people, male and female.

Offsite, in the offices and boardrooms of construction companies, we should be able to address gender imbalance at senior management level more rapidly than on sites, with concerted efforts over the next three years.

Throughout 2018, the CIF will bring industry leaders, key policymakers, and key stakeholders in the education system, such as the career guidance counsellors, together to address gender imbalance in construction.

Working together and with the Government, we should aim to increase the proportion of women in the workforce to 25pc by 2030. This will be very challenging. However, we have met similar challenges in the past. Together, we can achieve this essential goal to the benefit of our companies, our industry and Irish society generally.

Last week, the CIF gathered with male and female leaders and role models from across the industry to mark International Women's Day.

And we have launched an awareness campaign, #BuildingEquality, to highlight the fact that there are high-quality careers available for women in the industry.

Throughout the year, we will be calling on industry leaders, male and female to be role models, to work together, and to collectively bring about the changes needed to attract more women into the industry. Simply put, the industry's future depends on our building equality.

Jean Winters is the director of Industrial Relations with the Construction Industry Federation

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