While women amount to approximately half of the labor force and are broadly represented in most fields of employment, their position remains marginal in the construction industry. Despite pro-women initiatives, a manpower deficiency and an ageing workforce, construction is still predominated by white middle-aged males.
Prejudice and stereotypes are still present in the construction industry, both among entrepreneurs, union representatives and male colleagues. Prejudices are beliefs that limit our openness to others and that prevent change. To move from a homogeneous culture to an inclusive culture, industry actors must overcome old prejudices. For example, maternity and work-life balance are often named as barriers to women's presence in the industry. Although technological advances and strict safety codes have made the use of physical strength obsolete in most jobs – muscles are not required to handle modern, high performance construction equipment - physical force is also pin-pointed as a sign that women do not belong on a construction site. Other common arguments include “Women will cause discord on construction sites” or “Women have a place in construction, but not everywhere, only in specific trades or specific tasks”. Despite important actions to increase the presence of women on construction sites, these prejudices have preventedfar-reaching results from being achieved.
Prejudice is not the only explanation for the lack of gender diversity in the building sector. In vocational training centers, the distinction of being a woman is rarely mentioned. Many entrepreneurs also say they are poorly equipped to facilitate the integration of women or accommodate them in their team. Women are also reluctant to explain their problems to their union for fear of showing their weaknesses or drawing attention to them. Although psychological harassment and discrimination are present in the industry, women are sometimes not inclined to talk about their situation to staff representatives or employers. This reluctance stems from the fact that they want to be a worker like any other rather than an exception. A hostile environment towards women will most likely affect their desire to join and most importantly, stay the industry.
Interestingly enough, women can bring unique qualities to a workplace, qualities that are in fact part of the solution to several characteristic problems in construction. A research conducted by University of California Berkeley has revealed that companies who embrace the distinctive traits of female employees and value gender diversity in their organizations actually observe a boost in their business results, while organizations that cling to old-fashioned boy network mentality do not perform as well. Several companies have reported an improvement in compliance with health and safety standards when their teams have women, allowing a reduction of days of absence due to illness or injury, as well as insurance savings. According to a case study, female electricians take fewer risks than their young male colleagues and thus reduce the risk of accidents. Employers hiring more women also find improved customer relations and work culture as well as a general increase in productivity and safety.
Although there are still several obstacles to a lasting increase of women in construction, facilitating conditions are present and should gradually promote a greater presence of women in the construction industry. Important players in the construction industry such as trade unions, employer associations have agreed to make more room for women workers. Equal access programs are developing across the world and there is also a growing number of initiatives by women's groups to promote women in construction trades. All these efforts, combined with a high turnover rate combined, industry growth and a growing retirement rate, should have a strong impact on entrepreneurs, who will shortly have no choice but to turn under solicited labor groups.