Will Offsite Finally Crack the Issue of Diversity in Construction?
In 2017 the percentage of female employees in scientific, technical and engineering industries was 24%. Looking into the figures in more detail reveals that 12% of the construction workforce and 25% of the manufacturing workforce were women.
At the same time women filled 35% of professional, scientific and technical occupations across all STEM industries. For the sake of comparison, 46.5% of the total UK workforce were women (source: WISE).
Apart from the fact that female representation in technology and engineering is still far too low generally, what does this tell us? The fact that stands out is that women seem to find other technical and manufacturing occupations significantly more attractive than construction.
There could be many reasons why manufacturing and technical industries are more attractive to women than traditional construction. Some of those reasons will reflect reality and some, no doubt, will be based on pre-conceptions that don’t represent how the modern construction industry works.
We certainly need to be wary of making assumptions and generalisations. Career choices are individual decisions and many women are far from deterred by the traditional construction industry. But there are clearly factors that make construction a less appealing sector to work in.
Barriers and Risks
The statistics tell us that construction sites have a higher health and safety risk than almost any other work environment. Sites may not be close to workers’ homes and there is no certainty that they will always be in the same area. It seems probable that these factors, together with poor onsite facilities, would deter more women from working in the sector.
There may also be a perception of having less security over future employment and the likelihood of having to work irregular hours. These factors could make it harder to fit in with other commitments or flexible working.
The stark truth is that, despite many years of awareness campaigns, the percentage of females in our industry, particularly in trade occupations, remains marginal.
A More Appealing Work Environment
The above statistics show that manufacturing and technology are environments that women find more accessible and appealing. And offsite is largely a manufacturing process that takes place in a controlled environment. There’s less work to be done on site, and when there is, the health and safety variables are much less than that of traditional construction.
Issues such as flexible working hours are also easier to plan and accommodate in a manufacturing process with a static work location.
There are many sound commercial reasons why more customers and architects are opting for offsite solutions. A welcome by-product of this is that we may well start to see significant shifts in the percentage of women and other underrepresented groups in the construction workforce. There’s little doubt that project outcomes will benefit as a result of the broader perspectives this will bring.