Updated: Mar 31
With International Women's day having just passed us by, it encouraged me to reflect on my own time in Construction.
My overall experience has nothing but amazing, friendly, kind and full of opportunity, but that doesn't mean that this is the general experience, and as I walk around construction sites there is still a distinct lack of women.
We are all a little guilty I think, of coming across a woman in a role that has been dominated by men and feeling surprised, which tells me our stereotypical preconceptions have gone nowhere and are still very prevalent.
There has been much focus in recent times about if discrimination has led to the low numbers of women in construction, both in being accepted into roles and their experiences thereafter. Right from whether you would be successful in getting an interview to be a crane operator or dumper truck driver, through to pay differences and differences in opportunity for promotion once in the role.
What I have experienced over the years is comments such as ‘Phew! If I had known you were coming, I’d have made more of an effort!’ or people seeing you on site automatically assuming you are there to make the tea (I even had someone come in and say, ‘hello darling, any chance of a brew?’ whilst putting his mug down on my desk. The courier driver delivering a parcel will bypass 15 men on site to give you the parcel, because you're the admin right?
But I have to say I have more positive stories than bad, and I can’t say other than the odd throwaway comment that my experience has been anything other than wonderful. I’ve had Clients that have expressed how they feel that having a woman on site has produced far better results, how those on site seem to listen more and be more amenable when discussing health and safety with a woman. Of course, we could open the argument that this is sexism the opposite way here.
It is because of this that I find being a woman in construction empowering and a real opportunity. Creating good relationships and having a good rapport is vital to progression of health and safety, and opening up two way consultation with those that can really make a change.
The industry is changing but it is only now we are seeing professional platform posts from women happy to be the first Site Manager or Plant Driver for their construction company. It is 2022. One could argue that we have long demonstrated we are more than capable (not that we should have to try harder than anyone else) and we saw women during World War II driving utility vehicles, executing tough jobs in warehouses with precision, and yet we still have low numbers in roles that have long been male dominated.
My personal opinion is that in addition to the roles not being opening given to as many women, there is still a lag in the uptake of such roles by women. Whether that be because of a feeling of defeat before one has even applied, or because our younger generation simply aren't aware that construction can be a really good career choice, we do need to make more effort to break the societal stigma.
What we must do for safety's sake is hire the best people irrespective of gender to ensure the right people get the right jobs and all work together for the greater good - a safer construction world that benefits all workers, all humans.