How one infrastructure project is challenging industry norms

Gender hiring Ellis Fox Blog

To have a workforce that is 40% women is rare in construction and infrastructure. As a norm, you’re lucky if there’s 10-15% women on a project. Yet on a major energy infrastructure project that currently has 500 employees and will be ramping up to 8000 at peak construction, closing the gender gap appears to be a high priority. How have they managed to achieve this when others haven’t come close?

Perhaps it’s a simple case of priorities. According to the HR Director for the project, they wanted to challenge the norm, specifically the make-up of the project workforce. With major infrastructure projects there’s often talk of local job creation and bringing investment into the local economy, but typically these promises get diluted as projects progress.

Common reason cited are that locals don’t have the necessary skills and therefore, for the sake of the project, talent needs to be brought in. But if there haven’t been any similar projects in the area, how are locals supposed to have the necessary skills and experience?

To address this the project is working closely with local colleges and universities and has already started internships and work experience projects. Part of plan is to work with tertiary education institutions in the area to develop specific expertise that is needed. This is encouraging to see, considering that once completed, the project will be a major supplier of electricity for decades to come. Collaborating with educational facilities is yet another positive, showing the willingness to invest in future talent.

Some may say the construction has only just started on the project and that it’s in its infancy. It’s not uncommon to hear of promises and projections like this. But what might make a difference is the fact that the leadership team is 50% female.

Change only happens when specific values are prioritised. Will they be able to maintain that higher than industry average ratios on gender construction ramps up? Maybe not, but the fact that they’re focused on it, along with nurturing local skills development, increases the chances they’ll certainly improve on the industry average.

Construction and infrastructure have historically struggled with attracting and retaining women, primarily because policies, especially regarding pay and maternity don’t encourage them. Could a more diverse leadership make a difference? Let’s hope so. There’s a lot hinging on this particular project. Perhaps they can demonstrate how things can be different.