Home working could be start of gender parity in construction sector

26 March 2020

Digital working practices can help more women progress in the industry

The effects of Covid-19 could change the makeup of the construction workforce forever, according to a leading academic.

Dr Jenni Barrett from University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), says the influx of home working now taking place as a result of the pandemic could allow more women to enter the sector, ending the current gender imbalance.

The industry has been frequently highlighted in official government statistics for its lack of gender equality. Only 19 per cent of the current workforce are female, while women working in the industry typically only earn 76p for each £1 paid to their male counterparts.

"Online identities aren’t always gender obvious. As such, first impressions can be based on merit, rather than conditioned response."

However, Dr Barrett says the increase in digital working could break down some of the barriers which currently stop women from progressing.

She said: “The construction sector’s culture of long hours and being seen at work were barriers to women succeeding and staying in the sector, particularly when women still tend to adopt the larger share of care roles at home.

“However, as the industry goes online and becomes more digital, those barriers could start to disappear, creating a more inclusive work environment. With most of the country now working from home, hopefully we will see companies start to embrace a more flexible work-life balance long-term, which would be positive news for women in construction.”

Dr Jenni Barrett
Dr Jenni Barrett

Recent research carried out by UCLan’s Institute for Research into Organisations, Work and Employment (iROWE) found a variety of barriers to progression for women in the sector, including examples of women being excluded from designs and decision making, in addition to being overlooked for promotions and penalised for taking career breaks such as maternity leave or caring for family members.

The digital revolution could also help to promote the careers of women in construction, due to more training being available online and greater access to professional networks, said Dr Barrett.

She added: “Online identities aren’t always gender obvious. As such, first impressions can be based on merit, rather than conditioned response. Automation and robotics are also reducing the need for physical strength in construction, which can be beneficial to more women joining the industry and progressing.”

For more information about iROWE at UCLan, please contact 01772 894537 or iroweresearch@uclan.ac.uk.