We often (and rightly so) hear and see the risk factors of male-dominated industries – for men but what about women’s health in these same industries? Are the risks very different to those which women face across other sectors, what do employers really need to be aware of and most importantly what do they need to do to facilitate real change?
Let’s focus on construction as before we even get to the stats we know there is a huge disparity in gender representation within this sector, of all the people working in construction women comprise only 10.9% and the numbers are even lower for women on the construction site at just 1 in every 100 employees in the field. Women make up 47% of all employed individuals in the U.K meaning the construction industry has just 1.25% of women in its workforce.
Why the enormous gap?
As you would expect there is a range of reasons to explain this enormous gender gap including unconscious gender bias, lack of training, negative perceptions of women working in construction, lack of adequate role models and workplace sexism to name a few.
Yes we must address workplace sexism
Women in male-dominated industries are often unofficially assigned extra responsibilities simply because they are women, from being the person who cleans the kitchen or always being the one who organises office parties to being referred to as ‘ Work Mum’ or even the person who keeps the ‘boys’ in check – all of these things reinforce the idea of inequality and of fitting into a stereotype that benefits others.
Workplace sexism is a contributor to poor mental health for women in male-dominated industries and when added to this the reasons women are leaving the workforce across the sectors including workplace cultures that are inflexible to work-life balance or family life, maternity discrimination and societal pressure and its starting to look a little bleak.
What can employers do?
There is much to do when it comes to recruitment and talent attraction into the sector (but that’s a whole other blog and not our field of expertise) but it’s also largely pointless recruiting more women into the industry if you’re not looking after the wellbeing of the ones who are already there.
- Create Opportunities – Whether that’s for personal development or promotion, no one wants to stick with a career with no opportunities for progression.
- Seek out support networks – the statistics tell us you may well only have one woman in your entire company, help to identify support networks, groups, mentoring and professional bodies outside of your organisation
- Create open communication channels: For the women in your workplace (already underrepresented) it may not be the easiest to come forward about issues that are affecting them and their wellbeing. Create clear and open communication channels and consider whether those channels remain internal – recognise that in some situations perhaps a woman would rather speak to another woman to raise concerns.
- Embed behaviours into company culture: If you are truly committed to increasing diversity in the long term and improving the working environment of the women in your business then this must be something which is delivered on a company-wide scale otherwise it just becomes ‘ the women’s thing’ you are doing and will result in little change. Ensure that the steps and even policies and procedures that you are putting in place are clear to everyone.
- Identify poor or damaging behaviours – this may be difficult, some behaviours may even be so entrenched in your organisation that you just don’t see them – but it’s highly likely they are there and you need to identify them if you are to prioritise wellbeing for the women in your workplace.
Supporting wellbeing in the workplace irrespective of gender is not something you can put into place overnight but it is something which if done correctly will be hugely beneficial to your business – happy employees don’t leave and they do better work, that’s the simple truth, in this example, you will also be increasing diversity not just across your teams but across the sector as a whole and as a result enabling real change.
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