More work required to improve sector’s gender pay gap

Susannah Donaldson

By Susannah Donaldson, a senior associate and a gender pay gap reporting expert at Pinsent Masons

THE construction industry is one of the fastest growing and evolving industries in terms of technology and innovation, but it is still struggling to fight old stereotypes.

The current stats on gender diversity within the sector are rather alarming – in accordance with the Government’s gender pay gap reporting regulations that came into effect this year, construction firms recorded the highest median pay gap at 24%. This was just above the 22.5% gender pay gap reported by the finance and insurance sector, and the 21% gap reported in the education sector.

Today, women make up only 11% of the construction workforce, and just 2% of tradespeople. What’s more shocking is that these numbers have remained the same since 1997.

In order for construction companies to improve their gender pay gap, it is vital that they take action to improve representation of women across the sector. This has historically been a challenge, with many companies in the industry having a disproportionately low number of female employees, particularly at higher levels. Reports by recruitment agency Ranstad have shown that women are three times more likely to miss out on promotion, and of the 540 employers that took part in the survey, 49% have never worked with a female manager.

In order to address the lack of female representation across the sector, more needs to be done at schooling levels. It is well-recognised that there is a lack of women with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills. Research has shown that by the age of 16 only 35% of girls elect to study maths, physics, computing or a vocal qualification. Additionally, only 24% of STEM graduates in 2017 were female and, of those, only 14% were in technology and engineering.

Many firms are already taking positive action in order to address this issue. Balfour Beatty has formed partnerships with education providers to encourage young girls to pursue a career in the construction industry. Additionally, Amey has launched a STEM ambassador scheme whereby ambassadors from the business will visit schools and colleges throughout the UK to inspire girls to work towards a career in engineering and construction.

Firms including BAM Nuttall, Costain, Amey and Sir Robert McAlpine have signed up to the WISE Ten Steps campaign – an industry-led campaign to ensure that women in STEM have the same opportunities to progress in their careers as their male counterparts. The Construction Leadership Council has also been working to transform the image of the construction sector as male-dominated, and to inspire more women to pursue careers in construction.

Recruitment is another area that needs to be redefined. Construction companies have started to lead the way in revolutionising recruitment processes, in order to make sure they are gender-neutral. Keir reported a focus on increasing its intake of female employees, with the aim of establishing a 70:30 ratio of male to female employees at graduate levels within the company. Intersereve has also implemented a system of diverse recruitment shortlists, and now track gender balance in its headcount data.

Construction firms also need to think about how they retain talent. Targeted career development initiatives are being rolled out to help women realise their full potential and increase the amount of female representation at higher levels. Mentoring initiatives to drive female progression have been introduced, for example Balfour Beatty’s innovative ‘reverse mentoring’ programme which seeks to ensure that company leaders are aware of and understand the needs of women and other underrepresented groups within the business. Unconscious bias training is also becoming a regular training course. Enhanced return-to-work initiatives are being implemented to support staff on returning after career breaks. Morgan Sindall has introduced enhanced maternity policies to help support returning women and Laing O’Rourke are continuing to promote ‘keep in touch’ days for employees on shared paternity leave and is launching a ‘returner’ programme in 2018-19.

It is widely accepted that none of these initiatives will achieve a quick fix to the problem of under-representation of females in the construction industry but assuming they are properly targeted, they should promote sustained progress over time.