As of 2019, construction was one of the most male-dominated major industries in Australia, where the proportion of women working in the sector had fallen by 20% (12% in 2018 compared to 13.8% in 1998). Furthermore, when looking at the proportion of females within the construction industry, the majority were clustered within support roles like HR or administration rather than on-site or senior management. The latest gender diversity statistics within engineering haven’t fared much better, with a recent Engineers Australia statistical overview report revealing that the proportion of qualified female engineers in 2018 was at 12.4% - down from 13.4% in 2017.
This low female participation rate within two integral industries to Australia’s economy – especially post COVID-19 – is worrying, as research has proven the benefits gender diversity can have on an organisation; particularly in regards to productivity and innovation. Across industries worldwide, studies have shown that a more diverse workforce brings fresh ideas, experiences, and perspectives- the key qualities needed for problem solving. Considering the many challenges the construction, property and engineering industries face in the wake of COVID-19, utilising fresh ideas and perspectives could be highly beneficial for the sector.
Greater diversity is also believed to drive profit, with many studies revealing that the more diverse an organisation, the greater the economic success. Global consulting company McKinsey conducted a recent study which found that businesses with a high number of female executives tended to perform better financially. The company also noted that companies with a larger number of women in their ranks witness higher job satisfaction ratings among their staff. They again attributed this financial success to the wider range of perspectives women were able to provide; with an expanded number of outlooks comes an increase in the likelihood of innovation, growth and subsequent financial success.
Considering the benefits gender diversity provide both the individual employee and the organisation overall, Design & Build have been exploring the current challenges organisations face when trying to attract and retain female talent within the construction, property and engineering industry. Over the last month, we have conducted a number of polls within our social network as well as a more in-depth survey sent out to our female Design & Build database of professionals within rail, property, engineering, construction and mining. The results have revealed a number of insights- one of the most prevalent being the importance building mentorship programs and female role models play in retaining female staff. We explore these findings further below and delve into how organisations can use these findings to improve their own professional development schemes and enhance their retention strategy:
When asking our respondents what they found most challenging about their industry (in construction, property and engineering) 54.17% claimed it was the lack of female role models or mentors within their industry. Furthermore, within Design and Build’s own research it was discovered that the majority of female professionals within construction, property and engineering hadn’t set out or initially planned for a career in construction or engineering. Rather they ‘fell into the industry’ by accident or grew up within the industry due to their family connections. Only 4% of respondents were advised of potential careers within construction or engineering in secondary school and 11% studied engineering or construction in their higher education (university or TAFE). When pressed as to why they weren’t aware or didn’t pursue a degree or training within these industries, many respondents responded by saying things like – ‘I didn’t know it was a feasible career option for women’ or ‘I didn’t know any other girls studying that career’. These insights are supported by a study from the Australian Department of Education and Training in 2016, which conducted a number of field studies on girls finishing high school across Australia. The majority of girls interviewed, highlighted the lack of women working in the industry, indicating that having a lack of role models played a considerable role in their perceptions of engineering or construction being a career option for themselves. One high school student even claimed – “Why would I want to be in the construction industry? No one listens to a girl”
There have been numerous studies across industries and occupations that show the benefits role modelling and mentorships provide to an individual’s career development. Having a trusted advisor or colleague who has had a career you wish to emulate, can act as a sounding board for your ideas and any career challenges you’re facing. Role models and mentors also act like a guide, giving you a clear idea or ‘path’ to follow and model you own career decisions off. Even just observing their behaviour can become an effective learning tool for many professionals just starting out in their own career. Career advisor, author and experienced construction worker Elinor Moshe, often urges organisations she works with to promote and initiate formal mentorship programs as a development tool:
“Certainly, mentorships are one of the best professional development opportunities organisations can provide…Unconventional education as such will continue to come into dominance, as we can see the traditional forms of education have created nothing but an over-supply of professionals that are underdeveloped from every aspect other than relying on rote learning and taking tests. For results, in real life there is a growing adoption of mentoring.”
Mentoring Solutions for Male- Dominated Organisations
The challenge within male dominated industries, is that there are very few women in leadership roles to begin with, which makes it that much more difficult to provide future prospective female talent and the future female workforce with tangible real-world role models and mentors to emulate or learn from. The lack of female representation can be isolating for women just starting out in an organisation and make it difficult for them to identify a clear pathway in developing or progressing their career within the field. They might question if it’s even possible. Consequently, many organisations can seek to partner with an association or professional network within their industry, dedicated to supporting and empowering female employees. Groups like Women in Design and Construction (WIDAC), Top 100 Women, The National Committee for Women in Australia, Property Women or The Property Council Australia are just some of the many associations that partner with companies within the construction, property and engineering industry and offer external mentoring and networking programs for women. By working with these organisations, you can provide your female employees with direct access to like-minded female professionals, who can share their knowledge and skills and support one another.
Organisations should also invest in internal mentorship practices, even if they don’t currently have a strong representation of female leaders. Studies conducted by WIDAC found that while a 100% of sponsors thought having a mentor or sponsor would be beneficial for their career development, 88% of respondents indicated that gender wasn’t necessarily relevant. While seeing female leaders within a company is encouraging for women and helps them to see what’s possible, ultimately having a seasoned and experienced person within their industry to provide advice, introduce them to people and monitor their progress (man or women) will make women feel supported and a valuable part of the organisation.
In the long-term, investing in mentorship programs can also futureproof your female talent; being taken under a leader’s wing can help a junior female employee learn and develop at a faster rate and help them in progressing up the ranks of the organisation. This then creates the opportunity for them to mentor future female talent and attract more women to the organisation. Our research identified that becoming a future female role model and mentor was very important to our respondents. One woman listed her future career goal as “continuing to learn and to mentor women wanting to get into construction and develop themselves within construction.” Another aimed to ‘perform best at my work and be an example to other women’ while a third said they’d like to ‘establish a successful construction company with women at all roles’. These responses demonstrate the value women see in having not only female role models, but organisations that support and foster mentorships and career development programs. Consequently, organisations who invest in initiatives to help develop and support their female talent, will have a better chance at retaining them.