The gender gap in the construction industry is not only a reality recognized around the world, but there’s still some work to do in order to achieve equality in all aspects of the work environment.
Numbers speak for themselves. According to data from the EPA (Workforce Survey), women represent 8.7% of the employees in the construction sector, compared to 91.3% of men. What barriers currently exist for the insertion of a woman in the construction sector? Is maternity an obstacle to her professional development? Is the figure of women undervalued in a traditionally masculine sector?
To find answers to these questions, we have asked some of our students who have struggled to find their place in construction companies in different countries.
The (scarce) presence of women in the execution of a building
When we ask them if they consider that women are undervalued in the construction sector, all of them, regardless of the country from which they come, agree in the answer: Yes. However, on the positive note, they are also perceiving a change, especially in small businesses and off-site.
“There are certainly more and more women architects and engineers, but their presence is not homogeneous throughout the whole process of conception and execution of a building”, explains Lidia Díaz, originally from Honduras and resident in France, where she is leading the first BIM project in Ivory Coast.
Leadership: A Gender Issue?
The management and leadership of teams in the construction sector is still largely in the hands of men. However, our interviewees consider that “women are perfectly capable of leading and, when they leave us, we prove it”, according to Helena Goñi, an industrial engineer and structural calculator from Spain.
“I think men still have more authority when it comes to leading a team. It’s taken for granted that men are born leaders, but the women have to demonstrate it day by day with our work and effort”, claims the Spanish Rebeca Enríquez, Civil Engineer. This is confirmed by Marta Pallares, BIM Manager and VCT Engineer in the United Kingdom: “Women must prove their worth in order to be recognised in a sector where the majority of decisions are made by men.“
At a meeting table where the big decisions are made, “they are the ones who occupy almost all the seats, they are the ones to get their opinions through and the ones who lead most of the teams”, concludes Rebeca Enríquez.
Lidia Díaz has experienced it in the first person: “As a specialist in the coordination of studies of execution phase, I am often the only woman at the table.”
Salary and gender: main barriers in a woman’s professional career
That there is a wage gap between men and women is nothing new. In construction, women earn 95.7 percent of what men do. This is one of the aspects that most worries the professionals: “Our salary is lower than that of men, exercising the same positions and having the same responsibilities,” says Rebeca Enríquez. Lidia Díaz narrates her experience: “I have always earned less than my male colleagues, despite having more experience and responsibilities”.
To this economic inequality, the gender factor is added. Being a woman makes insertion into the labour market more difficult, something that Lidia Díaz resolved in the following way at the beginning of her career: “I sent my CV without a name or gender to make sure that the selection was based on my abilities and experience”
Maternity and its Repercussions
“As long as the wage gap between men and women remains our reality, we will always have difficulties reconciling work and personal life. Because when one of the parents has to stop working to take care of the family, it will always the woman for purely economic reasons,” reflects Helena Goñi when we ask her whether motherhood can be an obstacle in the professional career of women.
Marta Pallarés has it clear: “It is an obstacle without a doubt, since we have to take a break in our professional career, unlike men, who can continue with their profession without many repercussions.”
Lidia Díaz is more optimistic: “I don’t think maternity is a barrier in a woman’s career, but the truth is that many women wait until they reach a certain professional position to have a baby. She currently works in a company where many women hold positions of power. One of them will be a mother in a very short time and the whole team is very happy to have their first “BabyBIM”.