What is Gender Inequality Really Costing the Construction Industry? Part 2
In part one we highlighted the issue of gender bias in the construction industry and asked the question as to why there is a lack of females in this area.
A study undertaken by UNSW revealed a couple of key areas that highlight several barriers to acquiring more female workers.
Different recruitment channels, seem to influence the engagement process right from the beginning with many building companies hiring based on referrals from their predominantly male workforce. Women will often miss out on these jobs as they are less involved in the informal networks that are mostly men.
This informal network is seen as a way for applicants to ‘get a foot in the door’ becoming more likely to secure a position.
Women are more inclined to apply and be recruited through formal recruitment channels. And when they are ‘in the door’, assignment to projects routinely operates through a practice of male sponsorship and ‘picking your team’.
Women are often again overlooked in this process, further contributing to the lack of diversity of talent and more likely to limit their opportunities in the industry.
As women are still seen as the primary carers in the household they are forced to strategise and negotiate to ensure their career survives. The alternative is a choice between having a family OR a career in construction demanding long hours, with rigid work practices and little flexibility.
Early enthusiasm by women wanting a career in the construction profession decreases dramatically as they begin to experience the workplace. The relative disadvantage, inequality in pay, a lack of development and promotional opportunities compared to their male co-workers, does not paint a picture of a potentially long and satisfying career in these fields.
The high tolerance for sexism often found in the construction industry acts as a constant reminder to women of their gender and differences. This can lead to an inferiority complex and the belief that they are intruders in a male-dominated space.
Women’s overall negative experience is largely responsible for them leaving the industry almost 39% faster than their male colleagues.
It’s not a great picture of the industry but there is good news. The development of some new innovative initiatives and strategies promises to turn the gender bias problem around.
Programs such as Trade Training and the CSQ’s gateways program present opportunities for students to undertake work experience while finishing school and gaining formal qualifications at the same time.
The industry is already seeing small but significant results with the number of female construction apprentices steadily increasing over the last decade.
It’s not a matter of what women CAN do but what they are given an equal opportunity to do.
As the number of female construction workers increases, they will become mentors and be the major influence in encouraging other women to also join the industry.
Seeing their peers in more senior and executive roles will eventually dissolve perceptions that a women’s career in construction is limited to ‘lollipop’ holding and traffic management. It’s no wonder women can’t see themselves achieving in this sector.
It seems everyone wins when there are more women on the team. According to Dr Carnemolla, an industrial designer and senior research fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, ‘gender diversity in the workplace improves the wellbeing of both women and men and could contribute to overall better mental health.’
Creating a more flexible working environment including job sharing and specific projects as well as a regular review into work/life balance will further promote gender diversity.
In business we are more likely to be drawn to people we get a good feeling for and those we can easily build rapport with. Women, in general, excel at recognising this ‘feeling’ very quickly and have been known to be the masters at building rapport within minutes.
So once again, we come back to the culture of an organisation, its values and how its employees are treated. It is easy to determine if they are gendered or exclusionary and the reasons for disproportionate numbers of male and female workers can quickly be identified. This is the first thing women see when they consider whether to even try and pursue a career in what is currently a testosterone-heavy environment.
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