National Women’s Day last week saw debate surrounding women’s employment rights rear its head again, with particular scrutiny given to the lack of progress made with attracting more women to work in construction.

Of the 2.3m people working in the construction industry, only 296,000 of whom were women – creating a 87:13 split between males and females. This is in stark contrast to the 50:50 split nationally across other sectors, where out of 27 million people in work, 13.6m were men, and 13.3m were women. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing, it should.

The data from the Office for National Statistics show that the proportion of women in construction is barely any higher than prior to the recession (0.7%), despite the industry’s increasingly desperate need to attract new recruits and draw from untapped talent pools. And further surveys from contractors and trade bodies show that the gender pay gap is increasing and women are less aware of the different roles that the construction industry can offer – making the case for urgent action stronger than ever.

Despite awareness of the problem and perennial statistics demonstrating the dearth, very little action seems to have been done about it on a national scale. We can lament the situation, but what efforts are being made to shift the balance finally to start to build momentum? Changing the perception is paramount to achieving progress. Just 13 per cent of women surveyed aged 16-25 would consider a career in construction. This is mainly because they are unaware of the variety of roles that exist in construction, with the general perception that it’s all heavy labour duty. The only way that viewpoint can change is through a concerted effort by the industry to make women aware of the management, technical, administration and secretarial opportunities that are out there on site.

56 per cent of respondents were surprised to learn that a high proportion of women are hired at executive, manager and director level in construction. What’s more, on hearing of the opportunities available for women, 72 per cent of all respondents said the industry needed to be doing more to highlight it. There’s a definite need to better engage with younger women, and be able to highlight to them what the career opportunities in the industry are. Once women learned about the opportunities in management and could see the diverse roles available, construction immediately became more appealing to them.

After completing the survey, 45 per cent of young women said they were more interested in a career in construction, up from just 13 per cent beforehand. And when asked why, 52 per cent responded that they felt “learning about women in management” made construction more appealing, while 53 per cent said knowing that diverse roles were available was a major factor.

O’Neill & Brennan have actively promoted women in construction, hosting events attended by women who work for some of London’s leading Main Contractors and Developers. These regular events give a chance to recognise and appreciate the efforts and contributions made daily by women in the industry,, as well as catching up with some of our main clients off site to discuss the opportunities for women across all disciplines.

At O`Neill & Brennan we work to actively promote equal opportunities and diversity in the workplace and through these events look to positively promote the construction sector. We aim to continue to work alongside our clients to encourage the growth of women in construction and females entering the industry. By championing female role models, particularly in management roles, it shows others that women can be leaders in the construction industry. The key message from the statistics and the surveys is that more needs to be done, with construction facing an ongoing battle to retain its best and brightest women.