Levelling the playing field in construction: International Women’s Day
Even with a database as large as Safety Diagnostics, with more than 50,000 individual cases, producing robust data on women in the construction industry is challenging.
Women comprise around 12% of our survey population, drawn from tier one contractors and major projects across the UK and Ireland, that’s around 6,000 women to c 42,000 men. The problem, however, isn’t just one of scale. Men and women tend to work in different environments in the construction industry, with men far more likely to be site or partly site-based, with women more likely to be office based. They also undertake different roles with women far less likely to be engaged in production oriented roles than men. So asking the whole population their views on risk, on mental health, on culture and then analysing on the basis of gender produces polarised views based on very different working experiences, by and large.
Drilling down into the data however and weighting to compensate for these differences produces some concerning findings. When compared on a like for like basis, women working in a production environment (site or site/office environment) are twice as likely as their office only sisters and three times as likely as men to report witnessing or experiencing bullying or harassment. This suggests that the production environment is still fairly hostile to women.
The dataset of women in management roles is even smaller – fewer than 2% of the respondents in the database report that they are both women and managers. Respondents this group of less than one thousand cases are far more likely to report themselves at high risk of stress than their male colleagues (63% to 38%).
When the gender question is asked in our surveys, a small proportion of respondents refuse to answer. Anecdotally, we know that women are reluctant to identify as such because of concerns that their anonymity might be compromised and colleagues or bosses might be able to connect them with their responses. In reality this cannot happen as the analysis will never reveal that level of granularity and no-one outside Safety Diagnostics has access to the dataset. But the anxiety that women feel about being singled out in the workplace is real enough, and perhaps reflects that more work needs to be done to make construction a level playing field for men and women.
Judging by our data alone, however, strides have already been made by the industry in the past decade. The proportion of women in our surveys has risen from 10% of the population to 12% in five years and the proportion of women identifying as engineers, supervisors or managers has increased by 30%. Progress, perhaps, but still much further to go.