Increasing the number of women in the construction industry

Is construction a purely male domain? Gradually the locks are coming off as women take up their rightful place in this professional environment. How do we let girls know that these opportunities are open to them? How do we dispel preconceptions? Here are some of the keys to unlocking this industry.
Encouraging gender diversity in construction
Construction offers real opportunities for career development. For example, I joined the Group as a temp and now I’m an operations manager!
Ghazala Bouriah

Some are crane operators, others are engineers, human resources managers and even site supervisors... In just a few years, the traditionally male-dominated construction industry has challenged its own preconceptions by significantly increasing the number of women on its websites, in its workshops and in management. This fundamental trend clearly demonstrates that more women are taking their rightful place in the construction industry than at any time in the past. And that's rather good news, because this industry offers many opportunities across a broad diversity of trades and job functions. But you still have to know what they are and ‘unravel’ a number of preconceived ideas. 

Encouraging vocations

Erasing stereotypes is the core mission of the European Women Can Build project supported by the Spanish construction industry federation. Its aim is to promote diversity in construction industry careers and publicize the opportunities available. So far, 6 European countries(1) are on board, sharing the same desire to bring women into the industry and achieve a good gender balance within teams.

Trade bodies in France have also embraced the issues involved, and are bringing forward many initiatives to demystify the industry. The Saint-Gobain Group partners the Rêv’Elles non-profit organization, which offers career guidance for girls from low-income families. Since the beginning of the year, employees in support, sales and logistics roles have been working with 35 girls outside of school hours on a five-month program. Acting as credible role models, these mentors help to broaden the employment prospects of these high school students, open up the idea of wider possibilities, and consider - why not? - a career in construction. “What’s particularly striking is the general lack of knowledge about the industry,” says Saint-Gobain role model Magdalena Panek. “They have no idea of the wealth of career opportunities available in a Group like ours. Worse still, they mistakenly think that it doesn’t offer any opportunities women, and that they have no place in a major construction company.” 

Pushing back against preconceptions 

During the group sessions, these role models share their career journeys and the details of what their jobs are like on a daily basis. These discussions are designed to remove many obstacles and even some mental blocks for girls like Asma, who admits that she previously found it impossible to speak to professionals. Other girls leave with a head full of ideas and have learned how to think positively about their own future. “The girls ask us a lot questions about working conditions and work-life balance,” adds Louisa Maréchal Fabre. “They’re reassured to learn that they won’t have to choose between career progression and family responsibilities... That it’s possible to build a career without necessarily going through further education... And that it’s possible to be the only woman in a team and be valued as a member!”

So gradually, the lines are shifting and sociocultural barriers are being broken down within families. Prejudices are also falling away in schools and workshops. Thanks to developments in plant and machinery and the mechanization of tasks, it’s now easier for women to enter jobs previously considered ‘physical’ or ‘strenuous’. So trades such as joinery are seeing a much better gender balance in apprenticeship training centers, and it’s no longer a rare sight to see a women painter at work on a building site. Nevertheless, other trades - roofing, masonry and plumbing - continue to struggle when it comes to attracting girls, and still employ very few women.

New female profiles

Despite these last bastions, the construction industry seems determined to promote gender diversity in its teams. The energy transition and sustainable construction are attracting more and more women into technical roles, including civil engineering and construction engineering materials science. With highly specialized profiles, these women are now taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by this industry, which often faces difficulties in hiring new employees. Hirers themselves are gradually changing their stance. A few years ago, it may have been unimaginable for them to offer a woman a management position, but today they are much less fearful. There are many reasons for this: women who follow this career path do so out of passion or conviction. Their professional choices are well informed and based on a strong motivation. Hence their increasing integration into positions of responsibility. And that's a good thing, because the team diversity is a source of performance and added value.

One thing is certain: regardless of qualifications, the construction industry offers often unexpected career prospects across all its many functions, including sales, administration, management and production. So are you ready for the challenge?

(1) : Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium and Germany

Credits  : Nadya Chetah/Shutterstock ;  Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock