It will come as no surprise to those working in construction and infrastructure that it is a male-dominated industry, just 1 in 5 board members of the UK construction firms are women*.
One of the reasons for a lack of gender diversity, particularly at an executive level, is the difficulty in both recruiting and then retaining female talent within the construction and infrastructure sectors.
Various sources have found that increasing diversity within the workplace is crucial to inspiring innovation, better decision making and increasing revenue. McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform fourth-quartile industry peers on their profitability**. So, what can be done to make construction and infrastructure businesses more inclusive?
Here are some important factors to consider if you’re looking to increase gender diversity in the workplace…
1. Networking & Mentoring
Having a lack of senior female role models in the industry could potentially pose as a barrier to progression for those wanting to succeed in the industry. Having visible female leaders has an impact at all levels as it shows women that it is possible to progress to an executive level within that company.
Females working at an executive level will understand the issues women in these sectors face and can influence the culture and processes within their firm to ensure it’s inclusive.
To be able to inspire and encourage females in the industry who want to progress to an executive level, having female role models in place is key.
Networking and mentoring are critical to ensuring that women in the sector are expanding their personal networks, building relationships, and creating opportunities.
In recent years we have seen the construction and infrastructure sectors really stepping up on this front. In transport we’ve seen the rise of “Women in Transport” and “Women in Rail”, for the Built Environment there is “The National Association of Women in Construction”.
Networking and mentoring are important for building a supportive and mutually beneficial space for women in the sector. Having a mentor at an executive level can help women navigate some of the challenges they may face along their career path and help guide them throughout their career progression.
2. Corporate Transparency
Transparency and peer group comparison (such as league tables) are a good way to encourage firms to ensure their business looks good and is measuring up to their competitors with gender diversity.
Being transparent and reporting on gender diversity within a company (particularly at different levels of seniority) is a crucial first step in making improvements. From there companies can then set up measurable goals and tactics to increase diversity.
Not only is reporting on gender diversity a good way for your business to measure its own diversity levels, but it can also be a great way to encourage other firms to take steps to increase their gender diversity. A few companies that have set public gender diversity targets include; Thames Tideway, Network Rail and Arup.
3. Changing our attitudes and perceptions
Perhaps one of the biggest deterrents for women who may want to progress in a male-dominated sector is the public perceptions and attitudes that come with it.
A third of women in construction reported that a fear of sexism held them back from pursing senior roles***.
To ensure that the percentage of women working at a senior level in construction and infrastructure continues to increase, it is important that perceptions of this being a male dominated industry change – and this requires commitment from every part of the industry.
At all levels it’s important to stay mindful of unconscious biases and gender discrimination that may be occurring for women in the workplace.
4. Develop flexible working practices
Many companies struggle to retain female talent after maternity leave and need to get much smarter at introducing initiatives aimed at women returners and to support working mothers.
COVID-19 has certainly forced companies to consider their current working practices and how they can offer more flexible working. In turn, it has also forced people to consider their current working situations and whether they would benefit working for a company with more joining more flexible workplaces.
This is a particular issue for construction and infrastructure businesses who are focused on capital projects. The transient location makes it particularly difficult to retain female executives with families on site based roles, where it is still predominantly the mother who will be the prime carer.
At the top there is a need for ‘parent-friendly’ executive jobs, to ensure continuity of careers. Some argue that senior male leaders need to make their parental responsibilities more visible in the workplace, in order to normalise organisational practices that accommodate those.
Adopting flexible working practices to create a more inclusive work environment does vary by company type. We typically find that client organisations and consulting firms are more likely to offer flexible arrangements, and contracting firms are still grappling with how to offer this. This may be due to changing mindsets about the issue and different business demands.
Companies that follow the Scandinavian example of senior male leaders taking extended paternity leave often find it leads to positive results in diversity, perhaps due to a better understanding of achieving work life balance.
5. Broadening the person specification
In male dominated industries such as construction and infrastructure it can be very predictable that a person specification for an executive role will only lead to a male appointment. This is particularly true of senior positions in the construction of major projects and engineering. For senior management appointments the person specification will often specify significant experience within a similar role within a competitor in the industry, if the present (and recent past) post holders in those roles elsewhere in the industry are all male, then the longlist and shortlist are likely to be all male.
A lot of companies are now encouraging more gender balanced shortlists. Some FTSE 250 companies have recently introduced women only shortlists for some senior posts or a minimum of at least one female candidate on the shortlist.
The person specification has a large influence over the likelihood of a diverse appointment. We discuss with our clients about how to broaden some aspects of their person specifications to ensure we get a more gender balanced shortlist. By allowing candidates to be recruited from allied sectors where this is greater diversity at senior management level, gender balanced shortlists are much more achievable.