Bullying and discrimination hold back women in construction, report says

6 March 2014

A hard-hitting new report published next week by think tank the Smith Institute  will call for the industry and government to do more to encourage women into the sector.

Edited by former Labour minister and MP Meg Munn, and sponsored by the Construction Youth Trust, the report says that culture change will be essential to make the industry more welcoming of women and eliminate a perceived bullying culture.

Women form almost half of the national workforce yet continue to be woefully under-represented in the construction industry, accounting for only 11% of construction workers and just 1% of on-site trades.

Building the future: women in construction, to be launched at the House of Commons on 12 March, says that an ageing construction workforce and the return to economic growth will increase demand for skilled workers. It then argues that the construction industry should use this opportunity to do more to encourage women into the sector - but says that this will only happen if action is taken to combat discrimination and inequality. 

A number of contributors to the report, which include women from academia and industry, point out the barriers to women entering the industry include discriminatory recruitment, such as hiring through word of mouth rather than on the basis of qualifications, not looking at women’s CVs, and setting a higher bar for female applicants.

The personal experiences of contributors also highlight the persistence of a macho culture in the industry and harassment, while poor working conditions, a poor image and a culture of long hours can deter women disproportionately.

The report’s authors put forward a number of suggestions to break down these barriers. These include:

Meg Munn, who is also vice-chair of the Women in Enterprise all-party parliamentary group, said: “Many women working in the construction industry feel badly treated. These essays illustrate their experiences and set out recommendations for change. As the numbers of jobs with the sector are predicted to rise action is needed to dramatically improve recruitment and retention.”

Christine Townley, executive director of the Construction Youth Trust, said: “The industry has a great challenge but also a great opportunity to inspire and recruit the next generation of tradesmen, tradeswomen and professionals. Construction Youth Trust commissioned this report because we recognise the best way to meet this challenge is to understand the barriers that exist and how to overcome them, so that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to enter the industry and the industry capitalises on the opportunity to engage with hidden talent.”

In the foreword to the report, Munn says: “Change can happen if the will is there. The shortage of qualified people in the science, engineering and technology sectors hit the headlines recently when successful entrepreneur James Dyson complained that this was holding his company back. Widespread recognition that product innovation is vital to maintaining the economic position led successive governments to fund projects encouraging women to work in these sectors, with some success.”

The report was also supported by Wates Giving, the Wates family charitable foundation, and the CITB.


Equality means business. Equality means jobs. If this is not understood as the only end game, we will continue to remain under achieved as a people and as a society.
Empowering women to participate fully in economic life throughout all sectors is essential to build strong economies, establish stable & just societies and improve quality of life for all.
Sponsoring and investing in women to climb the career ladder across all sectors of the work force propels business operations and goals.
Let us set aside gender equality issues for a moment and measure only competence. Why should not there be as many mediocre women in the work force as there are mediocre men?

Porie Saikia-Eapen, 7 March 2014

I am 52 and work for a 5 star house builder as a site administrator. Over the past 18 months I have had comments about my dyed hair, facial hair and had to put up with my boss constantly oversharing his Tinder exploits. I have seen young people not treated fairly and someone who was injured was bullied into signing a statement. I was left out of a site jolly even though there was spare ticket available, it was given to a contractor. The whole thing seems to be run like an old boys club. I am currently talking to my HR Dept. who want to find a way forward. Although as well qualified and experienced as some others I am not considered for progression even though I have indicated I would like to. When I asked for a pay rise my authority to sign H&S forms was withdrawn. I am currently applying for jobs with different employers.
This is 2018 in construction for a woman.

Helen Everett, 12 June 2018

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