Constructive ideas for closing the gender gap

Just 12 per cent of the UK’s housebuilding workforce is female, with less than four per cent in a skilled trade role. One of the key findings of the recent NHBC Foundation report, ‘The gender and age profile of the house-building sector’ was that girls are put off entering the sector because it is still seen as a stereotypical male-dominated industry. With the UK experiencing a critical skills

shortage in construction, housebuilders can no longer ignore the importance of recruit- ing women. In the words of NHBC, the country needs to “do more to attract women and young people if the industry is to avoid a workforce crisis.” At the same time society’s attitude to

gender ‘roles’ are shifting, and women are arguably experiencing greater levels of equality than ever, however careers remain an uneven playing field. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, in the UK gender inequality is low in childhood, but women confront increasing divergence as they progress through their lives. A particu- lar bone of contention among these challenges is the gender pay gap.

THE PAY GAP In December 2016, an online tool was created by Government and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which allowed anyone to investigate the gender pay gap in their occupation. It revealed the painful truth that construction and the building trades had the highest pay gaps between men and women. Many occupations reported parity on pay

between males and females, with waiters and waitresses, bar staff, nurses and fishmongers seeing no difference. Numerous occupations with pay gaps favouring women were also revealed, such as male midwives earning 61.8 per cent less, male probation officers at -25.3 per cent and fitness instructors at -22.9 per cent. Construction, however, was on the other end of the scale. In line with many male-dominated industries, construction and building trade supervisor wages were 45.4 per cent higher for men. By way of comparison, financial managers and direc- tors were 36.5 per cent in favour of men, printers 35.1 per cent and assemblers 33.5 per cent. Apart from addressing the clear social

injustices, the benefits to the industry and wider economy of increasing and rewarding the contribution made by female employ-

ees are vast. A report from the McKinsey Global Institute, ‘The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in the United Kingdom’, explored the economic potential of addressing gender disparity across the UK. According to the report, bridging the gap has the potential to add an extra £150bn to the UK economy. If the parity were to be addressed, the

report claims, all 12 regions of the UK would have the potential to gain 5-8 per cent in GDP. Reportedly, some 38 per cent of this added GDP could come from increased female participation in the labour force. This is along with 35 per cent from extra women working in the more produc- tive sectors, and 27 per cent from a rise in women’s working hours by an average of 25 to 30 minutes a day. The Institute revealed that women

currently tend to work in less productive sectors, in lower-paid jobs. Their lowest representation is in high-productivity sectors, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and higher- salaried occupations, including skilled trades and managerial/leadership roles. The latest survey by RICS and

Macdonald & Company echoed these figures, reporting that male property profes- sionals earn, on average, £11,000 more than female counterparts (£7,000 in 2016).

SKILLS SHORTAGE With the UK seeing a sustained country- wide skills shortage, it has been made very clear the industry urgently needs to encour- age more women as well as young people into the industry. The Farmer Report estimated that the

sector needs to recruit 700,000 more people in the next five years just to replace those retiring or moving on. The report’s author Mark Farmer commented that if the UK doesn’t address the crisis, “we will see a long term and inexorable decline in its fortunes.” “This is not just another ‘must do

better’ school report,” Farmer added, “this review warns of potential marginalisation and deterioration that might not be recoverable.” With the NHBC’s stark findings on the

low levels of women in UK housebuilding, including skilled, technical and managerial positions, the challenge is clear. Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), puts it straighforwardly: “Until we start to appeal to 50 per cent of

Students from St Anne’s Catholic High School for Girls in Enfield visited Lovell’s Electric Quarter development in Ponders End recently to learn about possible careers

the population, we won’t be able to plug the skills gap.” “It is my hope,” he adds, “that women

will inspire the next generation of daugh- ters to think differently about what is an acceptable career path for girls. There is no reason why young women can’t become the next generation of brickies and sparks, and it’s our job to remind them of that.”

EMPLOYEES’ STORIES Despite the task confronting the industry, there are signs that things are improving, and among the relatively small numbers of women who have made it into the industry, many are thriving. In celebration of International Women’s

Day on 8 March, housebuilder Countryside recognised some of its female employees. Samantha Simmonds (26) an assistant quantity surveyor who joined Countryside comments on her career path: “I started in construction at the age of 18 – it is a demanding industry but it offers so many varied career opportunities.” She began as a technical administrator

because she didn’t have a surveying degree, but was offered the chance to enter a house- builder graduate scheme. Development manager at Countryside Emma Hewitt (29) believes the industry is changing, and welcomes the prospect of more women joining the profession. “When I first started,” she says, “I worked predominantly with male colleagues. However, in my department, there are now more women that men.” She adds however: “I don’t think

working in the construction industry is promoted as much as it could be, or enough emphasis given to the different roles avail- able within the housebuilding sector.” Commenting on her win of Redrow

Homes’ 2016 Pride in the Job Seal of Excellence site manager Zara Fairman said: “It’s a privilege to be able to show that women can do well in housebuilding. It’s also important to know that you don’t neces- sarily have to be from a trade or engineering background — there are lots of transferrable skills needed.”


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