One of the most pressing challenges for the construction sector in the UK is its appalling record on recruiting women – and then retaining and developing their careers within the industry.

• Just 12.8% of the construction workforce is made up of women, and no more than 1% of employees working on-site are women.
• No more than 5% of Executive Board members among the top 30 contractors are women.
• Only 13% of a thousand women between the ages of 16 and 25 surveyed in 2017 would even consider a career in the construction industry – let alone pursue one.
• Almost half of those respondents said the main reason for the industry’s lack of appeal was perceived barriers to career progression.
• Nearly one-third of women in construction said a fear of sexism held them back from pursuing senior roles in the industry.
• Male construction building trades supervisors are paid 45% more than their female counterparts, well above the national average gender paygap of 18.4%.

And those perceptions are well justified. Levels of harassment, sexism and inappropriate behaviour on building sites are still seriously bad – and would not be tolerated in any other workplace.

But there’s the thing: the industry needs to recruit 36,000 new recruits a year to tackle its skills shortage – which is one hell of a stretch, given all the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.

Given all that, I was keen to get to the launch of InspireMe, an excellent new campaign from Construction News – ‘to inspire and encourage women to seek leading roles in the construction industry’. This is obviously a really important way of helping to narrow the overall gender balance – construction has to be seen as a long-term career choice. 

Willmott Dixon (of which I’m a non-executive Director) is the headline partner for InspireMe. These gender gaps are obviously industry-wide challenges, but each individual company has to step up to help move things on – fast. We’ve just set some very demanding targets for women’s representation at different levels in the company, starting with a 50% target for management trainees by 2019 (it’s currently at 38%), all the way through to that same 50% for all senior grades and Director level by 2030.

That is not unambitious – as they say! A lot of young women look at the industry as it is today and come to a rapid conclusion that it’s not for them – a perception that may be reinforced by emerging data on the gender pay gap across big companies in the industry, which, at 23%, is even higher than the national average.

But the industry is changing, with a stronger emphasis on quality working environments, more digitisation, improved management, more inclusive teams and so on.

And the business rationale couldn’t be stronger, all the way through from early intake (management trainees and so on) to executive level. This was the relevant paragraph in the Construction News article:

‘In McKinsey’s ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ report last month, its research of a thousand companies in 12 countries found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. This was an increase of six percentage points on its research in 2014.’

All of which makes it one of those ‘no brainers’. But it’s amazing how little the collective construction brain has been engaged on this challenge over the last few years.