There’s been much discussion in the construction industry about the gender pay gap and Diversity and Inclusion. Even business research supports the view that the more diverse a company the more likely it is to progress ahead of its competitors. Yet in construction change is small and change is slow.

To be clear, it’s not that women aren’t holding senior positions in construction. There are many that are, and very successfully too. But the ratios are still skewed and until that starts to shift significantly, we as men, need to have the conversations that’ll lead to actual change.

Real opportunities

A common viewpoint is that senior opportunities are frequently made available to women, but that they don’t take them up. We like that argument. It makes us feel as though we’ve done our bit and can’t be blamed that women haven’t stepped up. But we need to ask the question: Is it really an opportunity for a woman?

To illustrate this point: You take a girl from a poor neighbourhood and give her swimming lessons. Then once she’s proficient, you make the grand announcement: You’ve got a fantastic opportunity for her, she can swim against Michael Phelps – arguably one of the best swimmers in the world. Except it’s not an opportunity at all. Realistically, she stands no chance of success, the odds are stacked against her. Except the sad thing is she’ll probably try anyway, even if she faces ridicule, because she wants to push herself to be a success.

Different perspectives

While women are highly intelligent and proficient, they operate differently. They have different priorities and responsibilities, different motivations. They don’t want to be like men in the workplace, they want to be themselves. They want to be successful not because they have anything to prove, but because they want to have a career and make a valuable contribution to the industry. This is 2021, women should not have to choose between a career and family. What they need most from employers’ is flexibility and understanding.

The pandemic has had most people working from home, juggling family and work responsibilities, and it hasn’t been easy. But it has also proven that flexibility has its benefits and doesn’t always come at the cost of productivity.

If the construction industry truly wants to benefit from diversity, and the skills and expertise that women bring, perhaps it’s time to review the rulebook and approach hiring from a perspective of considering all role player’s needs.