Women in construction

Women in construction

Women in Construction

Women make up only 11 per cent of the construction workforce and just 1 per cent of workers on site. The Office for National Statistics says that the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low that it is unmeasurable.

These low figures are also reflected in UCATT’s membership, where women construction workers make up only a small proportion of total membership. But that is set to change.

UCATT is redoubling its efforts to fight for dignity and equality for women already working in the sector, so that more women can and want to work in construction.

UCATT Women in Construction Survey

As part of UCATT’s Union Modernisation Fund (UMF) project, Building a Stronger Union, UCATT carried out a survey of women construction workers to find out more about the challenges they face and to raise awareness of the issues among its male membership.  It found that:

  • More than half (51%) said they were treated worse at work simply because of their gender;
  • The top three problems were: a lack of promotion prospects; lower pay than their male colleagues; and feeling isolated;
  • Four in ten identified bulling and harassment by managers as a problem;
  • Almost three in ten were afraid to complain about poor treatment to their managers;
  • A quarter of women in the survey said they had to share toilet facilities with men; and
  • Fifteen percent of women construction workers said that it was difficult to find personal protective equipment that fit properly.

The full results of the survey can be found in UCATT’s Women in Construction May 2014 newsletter.

Armed with these results, UCATT is taking action and developing a range of initiatives to recruit, organise and support women in the construction sector.

UCATT Women’s Network Forum

UCATT Women's Network Forum March 2014

Women activists and organisers gathered at the inaugural meeting of the UCATT Women’s Network Forum at the Hallmark Hotel in Derby on 20 March 2014. The meeting was a springboard for action on recruiting more women members and increasing female participation in the union. 

“It is wonderful news that UCATT is forming its first ever Women’s Network Forum – not just giving women workers and apprentices a real voice in the union, but raising the profile of women in the whole construction industry.” TUC General Secretary Frances O Grady

Women Get Women Recruitment Campaign

UCATT’s ‘Women Get Women’ recruitment campaign is aiming to dramatically increase the number of women construction workers in the union by the next National Delegates’ Conference in 2016.  

According to the latest figures UCATT currently has around 2,100 women members making up just over 2% of total membership. The following Figure shows the distribution of women members by region:

UCATT women members by region 2014

Women Get Women is aiming to build up a network of women construction members, activists and organisers in every region of UCATT to grow our current network.

Women in Construction: The Challenge Ahead 

While there are more women in work than ever before, accounting for just under half the workforce, progress has been painfully slow in construction.

  • Women are more likely to be union members than men. Density amongst women workers is currently 28% compared with 23% of men;
  • Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures shows that on average women in construction are paid 12% less than their male counterparts carrying out the same role; and
  • Recent research by unionlearn – the TUC’s learning and skills organisation – and the National Apprenticeship Service shows that while there has been a large increase in the number of women taking apprenticeships over the last ten years, but women made up just two per cent per cent of all apprenticeship starts in construction (see: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/UnderRepresentationInApprenticeships.pdf)

“There is no reason why the construction industry should be any different from other sectors in terms of equality and diversity. Women working in construction have an absolute right to be treated equally to their male colleagues and both unions and employers need to work far harder to ensure that occurs.” UCATT General Secretary Steve Murphy

Both the image and the culture of construction must change. 

Retaining women in the industry is just as important as recruiting them; but the vast majority currently leave within five years.

We must challenge widespread sexism and bullying;  

We must fight for better conditions and flexible working policies that allow both men and women with caring responsibilities to work in the industry; and

We must address long working hours, discriminatory recruitment practices, the macho culture, and the lack of family-friendly working environments.

UCATT looks forward to working with progressive construction employers to improve the image, culture and practices throughout the sector. 

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