Opinion

Clients can make construction a better place for women

26 June 2019 | By Gren Tipper

The industry’s major clients will push suppliers to make their working environments more welcoming and inclusive for female workers, says Gren Tipper.

Gren Tipper

Construction is broadly acknowledged as traditionally a male-dominated industry. In an effort to change this image of the industry, some construction employers, including clients, are putting effort into creating a more welcoming and inclusive working environment, offering the work-life balance which is, quite rightly, becoming more important to many.

An area for improvement is in the provision of better maternity and paternity leave entitlements, which has improved over recent years in many other sectors, but which doesn’t necessarily fit well within the demanding construction environment.

Many employers have robust policies in place around diversity, however it’s not certain that these are actually put into practice in the workplace day to day.

Solving the negative behavioural aspects that affect women in construction needs the same level of commitment as the industry has put into health and safety. We must be prepared to intervene, support and reinforce the messaging – improving the industry not only for women but also young fathers who are increasingly sharing the parental duties.

As clients, it is in our interest to help in addressing this for our own construction-related staff and our suppliers. We must understand how we can resolve the underlying issues that dog sustainable progress.

Two areas stand out, and these apply to any industry.

First, the undertone of women being treated as less capable than their male counterparts, even before engagement in work or team activity, meaning many women feel they have to prove themselves in an overt manner.

Second, maternity leave and the distractions of a young family, leading to women not being considered for certain roles due to: potential disruption from childbirth and family commitments; maternity absence having a perceived negative influence on key work activities; working hours not being as flexible as for male counterparts, particularly when returning to work.

There are many role models of successful women in construction who have prevailed in their chosen careers and at times when it was even more difficult. So, it can be done, but it should be so much easier.

We want to ensure that negative behaviours are being monitored and appropriate action is being taken to support women who want a fulfilling career in construction – and importantly to feel valued.

The Construction Clients Leadership Group (CCLG), with the support of the CIOB, is exploring which, if any, employers are tackling this issue, and looking for best practice examples. As leading clients, we want to provide excellent role models and influence the suppliers we employ to match their commitment. Email gren.tipper@cclg.co.uk to get involved or for further information.

Gren Tipper is operations director of the Construction Clients Leadership Group

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