Inspire Summit - Women in UK Construction, Engineering and Housing

I attended the Inspire Summit in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall as a guest of our delivery partner Wates, who were also one of the sponsors. The speakers, from a variety of different backgrounds, had all faced similar challenges in a male dominated industry.

Gender imbalance

The construction industry is facing a skills shortage and yet the percentage of women in the industry is shockingly low.11% of people working in construction are women, but women only make up 1% of the trades workforce. Jane Nelson, Group Executive Director of Mears Group gave an entertaining and a high impact presentation showing how women "are up to the job and always have been." A reoccurring theme throughout the sessions was that many of the speakers hadn't set out to work in construction, as it simply wasn't offered as a career opportunity at school.

Caroline Field, Regeneration Manager at Orbit, gave an engaging presentation on her route to managing all aspects of a regeneration project as one multi-disciplinary team. She described the work of housing associations as "profit for a purpose", where she could really make a difference to people's lives. Her passion and the enthusiasm for her work was clear to see, and alongside managing the added pressures of family life, she was truly inspirational.

Attracting and retaining more women

How we address the shortage of women in construction was considered by several of the speakers and the need for a variety of approaches was clear. One of these is to improve the image of the construction industry to make it a more attractive career for women. As a client partner of the Considerate Constructor Scheme, SCAPE is already working towards this goal, but a lot more work needs to be done across the industry. Additionally, we need to engage with students and young people to promote construction as an interesting and rewarding career for girls - a career offering the satisfaction of problem solving and creating a tangible solution, building increased confidence, the potential for a good wage, a successful career and the satisfaction of a fulfilling role.

Challenging perceptions

Through our partnership with organisations such as Construction Youth Trust, we are actively working to help achieve these goals as an industry, along with the support of our partners and affiliates. Rachel Woolliscroft, Sustainability Director for Wates Group outlined Wates’ framework for sustainability and corporate responsibility. By engaging with Social Enterprises, Wates have achieved greater social value and increased diversity. This is because the labour force of a Social Enterprise tends to be more diverse and provides a fantastic opportunity for female leadership, with 38% of Social Enterprises currently being led by women.

The day was completed by an after-dinner speaker, Hattie Hassan, who was described as a passionate plumber. Hattie set up the first ever franchise of women plumbers called "Stopcocks", which brings tradeswomen together to change the UK construction and skilled trades landscape.

Her speech was extremely funny, but with a serious message that whatever career you choose, nothing should stop you pursuing it.

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