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Shaking the foundations of inequality: how can the construction and property industry balance for better?

By Richard Gelder, Director of Hays Construction & Property

As an industry that has been historically associated with a predominance of male professionals, the pressure on construction and property employers to push a diversity agenda within their organisation is particularly acute. The reality is that as a sector, construction and property has much to offer to people of any gender, with healthy starting salaries and huge potential for career development. Severe skills shortages in some areas mean that opening up the floor to as wide a pool of candidates as possible is of critical importance, which is something that must begin by fundamentally altering perceptions of the industry – both from the outside and within.

Doubts around equal opportunities still linger

Over a third (34%) of female construction and property professionals don’t believe they have the same career opportunities as their male counterparts, and even more (38%) don’t believe they are being paid in an equal manner, according to our research for the Hays UK Diversity & Inclusion report 2018. Of those who felt their career opportunities had been inhibited, 68% of women felt that this was due to their gender, in comparison to only 19% of men, who were more likely to feel their age (55%) or ethnicity (43%) had a part to play. These statistics rather alarmingly perpetuate the stigma that surrounds the industry – the very real repercussions of gender bias are still being felt by a significant proportion of female professionals.

Is the diversity agenda being pushed from the top?

Filling quotas is not a conducive solution to the challenge of improving diversity and inclusion - to obtain the maximum creative potential from a workforce, leaders must instead drive change by example. Challenging traditional ways of working, modelling inclusive behaviour and delivering on the promises made by organisations is essential for effective leadership that makes a tangible difference to team dynamics, employee retention and company performance. The fact that less than a third (29%) of female construction and property professionals trust their leaders to deliver change on the diversity and inclusion agenda suggests that there is much more to be done by employers if equality is to be felt at all levels.

How can organisations achieve a better gender balance?

It starts from the top. The leaders of an organisation need to be agents for change. Mitigating their own unconscious bias and recognising the impact this may be having on their team is an ideal place to begin – self-awareness is integral to making change happen. Clearly communicating the diversity agenda being driven within their organisation and allowing employees to give honest feedback is integral to retaining confidence and trust.

Facilitating equal opportunities for employees, regardless of gender, by clearly defining their progression pathways and objectives is key to making a workforce aware that their professional development is tied to merit. Similarly, the use of mentoring initiatives gives traditionally under-represented groups greater access to leadership development opportunities.

Additionally, flexible working policies are particularly pertinent for construction and property employers to review and enhance. Our Equality Under Construction research 2018 found that 85% of construction and property professionals agreed that a women’s career prospects were negatively affected by starting a family.

Offering flexible working opportunities will allow all employees to better manage the demands of work and personal life while still fulfilling their professional responsibilities.

Although we are starting to see improvements in gender diversity, we all have a part to play to continue this journey to balance for better. View our diversity page for more insights from Hays experts, and to get the latest Hays UK Diversity & Inclusion report.

About this author

Richard leads specialist recruiting consultants across the sector. He joined Hays in 1991 and quickly worked his way up through the ranks and was appointed Director in 2001.

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