Building Resilience – Women in Construction

Whilst companies may be recruiting greater numbers of women at entry level they are not staying in great numbers, they are not getting involved in major projects and are not achieving leadership positions. In this women’s history month, Louise Collins, Head of Engineering & Energy, MENA and Elaine Oconnor, Head of Fit Out MENA share their views on the importance of tapping into the pool of female talent and playing our part in helping with gender balance. 

March 10, 2021

For decades, women have been underserved in the construction field. Now more than ever, tapping into the pool of female talent is crucial. In substantial efforts to improve diversity, empowering women across a wide variety of sectors has become a key part of the UAE’s economic and social development plans. Other regional commitments include the Saudi Vision 2030, a set of sustainable changes that will enhance the potential to empower Saudi women to pursue their career goals. 

Having male colleagues on board, and ensuring they are long-term partners in working to create a more gender inclusive company, is critical to strengthening diversification efforts within corporations. At JLL, this is a topic we are very passionate about. JLL’s latest global sustainability report highlighted tangible ways the firm and its dedicated MENA Sustainability Services Team are delivering positive social, financial and environmental results, for clients, employees, workplaces and communities. Regional goals in 2018 included at least 35 percent women in the workforce and at least 20 percent of Associate Directors and above to be women. 

On a regional scale, this agenda is consistently being pushed; however, a huge problem entrenched in the construction division of the business is that there are simply not enough women entering the industry. The percentage of women leaving the industry reduces this number even more. Although the number of women entering the industry has increased in the last 10 years, still, a mere 9 percent of the industry is female. 

Some parts of the construction industry have a much better balance than others. For example, 33 percent of registered architects, 30 percent of registered project managers and 15 percent of quantity surveyors are female. And yet there seems to be a great gravitas towards the real estate industry where last year, a record number of women became directors of real estate investment trusts during the spring proxy season, taking 52 percent of newly elected roles. So the big question remains - why are we not seeing the same numbers in construction?

Whilst companies may be recruiting greater numbers of women at apprentice and graduate levels, they are not staying, they are not getting involved in major projects and they are not achieving leadership positions. In 2020, 600,000 women left the workplace in the US, 8 times more than the number of men. In most, cases women who have left the industry are significantly more educated than their male counterparts are. If this impact continues, it can be detrimental to the workforce at large. 

Offering flexibility, career breaks, mentoring, leadership training and support to women in the industry is key to retaining them and to ensuring inclusion and diversification within the industry. We can all play our part in helping with gender balance. We have to challenge and change the perception of construction. We need to offer incentives to bring more women in, we need to continually learn from the expansive group of women at the forefront of thought leadership in our industry, and seek to expand on that circle.

Regardless of gender, employees within the construction sector should continue to immerse themselves into the trade and bring fresh perspective through their unique backgrounds. This will help not just foster more innovation and creativity, but will also help drive the industry forward.

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