Gender imbalance

Why are there so few women in construction?

Hannah Raven.
Hannah Raven.

My recent appointment as the only woman on the Construction Week editorial team has raised eyebrows in and outside of work.

Some people have told me being female will be an advantage, some a burden, but really, it shouldn’t matter at all.
A Middle East construction publication is not a place where the banging of the equality/feminism drum is regularly heard, which necessitates my discussion.

Anyone living here will know that the manual trades of the Middle East construction industry are 100% male-dominated. In fact, I have never seen a woman labourer anywhere in the world.

You may argue that the physical differences between men and women justify, or at least go some way to explaining this.
However, during the first six weeks in my new role, it has become clear that the trend continues in the multi-skilled and office-based jobs – the ones which require brains not brawn.

A sea of suits and ties has greeted me at all of the conferences, exhibitions, debates and interviews I have so far attended. I would estimate no more than 5% of industry professionals I have come in to contact with have been women.

The disparity is one that does not make sense in a time when gender equality in education and other industries has come so far in the last 20 years.

For the purpose of discussion I am putting aside the fact that I am living in a traditionally male-orientated country. Besides, the imbalance is also highly prevalent in the western world, despite other formerly male-saturated trades, such as doctors and lawyers, having balanced out.

In my native London while working as a news journalist, I reported with interest on the building of a new engineering University Technical College (UTC) where a huge focus was ensuring girls enrolled.

I recall interviewing the principal, and he spoke passionately about his belief that the market would benefit from a more balanced work force.

The increasingly hi-tech construction industry does not require any hands-on, what society would traditionally label as, ‘men’s work’, so what is putting women off?

Girls may subconsciously carry a prejudice when they think of women in construction, meaning it is a career option to which little attention is paid.

But even if and when that hurdle is addressed, I wonder what the realities of construction industry life are for a woman?
There are countless online forums, books and associations directed at helping women “survive” in male-dominated industries, with construction the most common sector mentioned. It is understandable yet alarming that this support network is necessary.

In time I hope to meet more female industry professionals who can help me form a fitting response to all those
raised eyebrows.

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