Is construction dawdling on gender progress?

Dr Baker previously worked in construction and on large-scale developments. Credit: Dr Marzena Baker 

“Comparatively, across all industries, women make up over 18 percent of all CEOs, 28.1 percent of board directors and 32 percent of key managers.

“While the construction industry is attracting women, and women are studying engineering and project management at a tertiary level, very few of these candidates are being properly progressed once they enter the workforce. This is not for lack of desire or motivation but is due to organisational issues.”

Tailored approach needed

Dr Baker believes a tailored – rather than perfunctory – approach would assist construction organisations in increasing gender equality in management.

“Instead of ignoring demographics and the identity of women by treating all employees the same, construction organisations could achieve greater equality by developing specific and tailored means of attracting, retaining and promoting women,” she said. 

“Those initiatives are often described as “special measures” or “affirmative action” and are allowed under federal anti-discrimination laws. They are positively associated with the increased numbers of women in management and across organisational levels.

“It’s evident that current gender-based HR diversity initiatives in the construction industry – which are only focused on meeting legislation and treatment based on merit alone – need improvement and nuance. The decisions by leaders also need to be underpinned by a better understanding of structural and cultural inequalities, justice and bias.”

Women could be a boon for the industry

Dr Baker believes the industry is missing out on diverse skillsets and workforce by not adequately supporting women and progressing their careers.

“Australia is experiencing a construction skills shortage and rather than looking externally for workers – which is more difficult now due to the pandemic – we should look to increase workforce capacity by hiring and promoting women. Employing and progressing more women would also cater to a widening range of customer needs and would increase innovation,” she said.

About the research

Data were gathered from organisational and government documents and interviews with senior leaders.

The study explored the decision perspectives of leaders related to the selection and implementation of formal HR initiatives designed to address a lack of equality and diversity in engineering-construction.

DISCLOSURE:

There are no conflicts of interest to declare.


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