Nobody could deny that the UK's overall construction and maintenance industry is male-dominated. You only need to walk past a building site or watch an episode of Grand Designs to see that there are very few women working in this area. But the problem might be a lot worse than you think. In fact, according to Innovate UK, only 3% of those in manual trades, 5% of those in engineering, 8% of haulage workers, and 12% of people in professional roles within this sector are women.
There are many benefits to diversifying your workforce. Not only will it give you a wider breadth of experience and viewpoints, so challenges can be approached in new and effective ways, but it can also make it easier to recruit and retain the best talent out there.
In order to encourage more women to apply for the roles you're advertising, you need to look at why they might have been deterred from doing so in the past. To help you out, I'm going to offer my top tips for ensuring women feel welcome and supported in your workplace.
Start inspiring women and girls early
Because the construction, maintenance, and engineering industry is so male-dominated, women and girls can often feel it isn't the place for them from a very young age. Again, they might see that it's typically men who work on their local sites, or come round to install their home's air conditioning units, which makes them feel like they won't be welcome.
Only 3% of those in manual trades, 5% of those in engineering, 8% of haulage workers, and 12% of people in professional roles within this sector are women
One of the most effective ways to combat this is by inspiring them to consider a career in the HVAC sector early on. Could you create a partnership with nearby schools to encourage pupils — both boys and girls — to come along to your workplace? Maybe they could safely help with some easy jobs and get an idea of what life in our industry is like. This would give you the chance to stress the importance of a diverse workforce, and you could explain why it's important that more girls think about joining the sector.
You could also offer students the chance to give you feedback about why they think women are underrepresented in the industry, so you can either debunk some of the myths surrounding this problem, or use their concerns to improve your operations in a way that will make your workplace more attractive to women in the future.
Offer flexible working arrangements
Across the globe, women devote up to 10 times as much time as men to unpaid care responsibilities (OECD Development Centre). Perhaps they're the ones who drop their kids off at school and pick them up every day, or they might have elderly parents that they feel a duty to care for. This is a huge factor that can prevent women from getting into the HVAC industry, which often required long working hours, irregular shift patterns, and periods of working away.
There are many benefits to diversifying your workforce
As a result, companies need to seriously consider how they can stop this from blocking women's paths into the sector. One of the best ways to attract more women to roles in any industry is to introduce flexible working policies. This won't just benefit the female talent you're looking to attract, either. It will help to give everyone a better work/life balance, which is sure to make for a happier and more productive workforce.
Could you find a way to allow your employees to choose their own work patterns, so they know they'll always have the time to tend to their responsibilities offsite? It will take time to get this right, but you could start by asking interviewees how you could ensure their job won't encroach on their life outside of work.
Make sure there's no gender pay gap
In 2019, research by RICS and Macdonald & Company found that men are typically paid 20% more than women in the construction and maintenance industry. It was also revealed that this disparity grows as the age of employees increases, with those aged 46–55 earning an average of £83,000 if they are male and £64,000 if they are female.
If you're an HVAC business owner who is looking to attract more women to your job roles, you need to ensure this isn't a problem you're contributing to. Take a look at the existing salaries among your workforce, and make sure men and women in the same jobs, with similar levels of experience, are being paid the same. Then, when new talent joins your workforce, ensure they're always being paid fairly from the very start. It's also a good idea to avoid basing new employees' wages on how much they were receiving in their previous positions, or you could just end up repeating the mistakes of other businesses.
Now that companies are being forced to reveal information about their gender pay gaps, women will be able to see whether you value them as much as their male counterparts. And, if they feel they're going to be underpaid, they'll be very unlikely to apply for your positions.
Make sure you have Bathroom facilities for both men and women
If your workforce has always been overwhelmingly male, you might have never had to think about ensuring there are suitable bathroom facilities for both men and women. But this is actually a huge barrier that's deterring female jobseekers from applying for jobs in the construction and maintenance space.
Men are typically paid 20% more than women in the construction and maintenance industry
For example, Unite the Unions conducted a survey of women working in the construction sector to find out what challenges they would face on a daily basis. And, one of the major issues that came up time and time again is that there's often a lack of welfare facilities, including clean toilets, feminine hygiene bins, and shower facilities for women. So, if your workplace tend to be lacking in this area, it's worth taking these concerns on board and putting some time and effort into fixing the problem.
The constructions, maintenance, and HVAC space has always been male-dominated, but it's time things changed and companies took steps to encourage more women to consider a career in this industry. These tips are a great place to start, but it's also important that you speak to your existing female workers, do more research, and ask women who apply for your jobs what would help to make them comfortable in your workplace.
Harriet Constantinou has worked for the tool and building equipment specialists Zoro for more than two years.