Women Who Build: Tackling inequality key to addressing skills shortage
With the UAE’s construction sector expected to grow by up to 10% in 2020, female recruits can play a key role in helping solve one of the industry’s biggest challenges, writes Morgan Tuckness, Head of Technical Services & Development – Global Hospitality at Drees & Sommer
While the number of women working in the construction sector worldwide has risen proportionally over the past decade, the stereotypical image of men on worksites and in corporate boardrooms is still a fair reflection of the reality for our industry. Gender equality has become a hot topic in the construction sector in recent years, reflecting a broader societal demand that women can and should play bigger roles in industries that are traditionally male dominated.
No doubt negative stereotypes persist among men working across all levels of the construction industry, which makes our challenge as female professionals all the greater.
Yet, with the industry facing a looming skills shortage, the onus is firmly on employers to recruit capable and ambitious staff regardless of their gender.
The UAE’s construction sector is facing a significant human resources challenge in this respect. With the projects market forecast to grow by up to 10% in 2020, the current skills shortage poses a threat to contractors striving to meet challenging deadlines. According to KPMG’s annual Global Construction survey, while 53% of industry leaders surveyed in the UAE were optimistic about the coming year, 44% of respondents cited time and cost overruns respectively as the biggest hurdles facing capital construction projects currently underway in the Emirates.
Women can play a major role in meeting this skills shortage and reinvigorating construction workforces. Recent research published by the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) initiative estimates that ending discrimination against female workers can enhance overall workplace productivity by up to 40%.
Many of the industry’s biggest players are slowly embracing this ethos and we have witnessed a shift in the level of effort and focus when it comes to gender balance in the workplace. This is reflected in the increasing number of female professionals employed in the construction sector, albeit, many in entry and junior-level roles. However, the lack of women working in mid-tier and senior roles reflects the greater challenge facing those trying to push through our industry’s glass ceiling, which is not moving as fast. Further exacerbating the challenge facing women aspiring to a career in the construction sector are the lack of employment policies designed to help them forge a successful path in our industry.
Given the historically larger male talent pool that exists in our industry, employment applications made by men will, at least for the foreseeable future, outnumber those made by women. To redress this imbalance, employers should be urged to adopt a policy designed to ensure female candidates are better represented during the interview process, one way to do this is to make sure job postings are not pulled down until there is a female candidate.
Another major issue facing both men and women working in the construction industry is the lack of realistic and flexible HR policies. Employers should be urged to adopt a more dynamic approach to supporting working parents in the industry. Traditionally, there has been a significant drop-off in the number of women working in mid-level professional positions in our industry when they marry and decide to start a family.
By providing more flexible working conditions and benefits for two-person working households we will create equitability. This should not be perceived as a symptom of entitlement – it’s more a case of trying to create a conducive work environment for both male and female professionals, which I believe will lead to a better gender balance in construction workplaces.
Having spent the past 15 years forging my own career in this industry, I am encouraged by the growing number of women working in key roles. For those women considering their own career in construction, I would urge them to be tenacious and confident – it is a challenging path, but there are so many amazing opportunities here in the Middle East and women shouldn’t be discouraged by being in the minority.
I would also encourage them to seek a mentor and take advantage of the growing number of networking opportunities that now exist for female construction professionals in the region. We all need an advocate.
Lastly, I urge all of my female colleagues to maintain the pressure on employers and remind them about commitments they have made about hiring women and promoting a healthier gender balance and fostering diversity and inclusion.