June 30, 2023

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Women in health and safety

Recruit to retain

Following on from last week’s article to coincide with International Women in Engineering Day, Beth Holroyd outlines key points to consider when encouraging more females into a sector that is in desperate need of new talent.

Beth Holroyd is UK Health & Safety Business Partner – Local Government at WSP

My recent article cited a report from the Construction Skills Network estimating that the built environment requires an additional 225,000 workers by 2027 to meet the sector’s demand. Of course, this shortfall can be met by males and females alike but with organisations and institutions in the sector often telling me that responses to job roles are mostly from men, with few or hardly any from women, it’s worth considering the below and incorporating them into your recruitment processes, if you are one of those seeing this disparity.

1. Where are you hiring from? Consider posting within networks and groups that are targeted for women in construction. If the usual channels are driven by your recruitment departments, push back! There are so many groups within various industries both that meet together in person and that have groups online that are targeted to women – utilise these.

2. What does your company culture say about you? Don’t just focus on the job advert, look beyond this. Do you allow flexible working to suit things such as childcare arrangements? Do women feel safe and welcome on your construction site? If they have a grievance, will they be supported properly, or will the issue be brushed under the carpet? Do you provide suitable PPE for women or will they be handed a small men’s jacket and be told to deal with it? What support do you offer for women who are going through menopause?

3. Consider the types of language you use in your job adverts. There was a great report by LinkedIn on why language matters when attracting talent, you can read it here.

Beth speaking at this year’s SHP Keynote Theatre at Safety and Health Expo, on making the industry more appealing to young people 

4. Consider what your recruitment process looks like. Remove the labels (I get this may be controversial) and use an online application form rather than a CV which will allow you to remove gender-based criteria. The focus should be qualifications, applicable or transferable experiences, and whether they are competent and capable to do the job.

5. Check your own bias. There is a whole generation of women who have either missed out or have fought to be here because of gender-based discrimination (conscious and unconscious bias). They may not quite have the right experience that would align with your expectations, maybe they weren’t offered the same opportunities as their male counterparts – this doesn’t mean to say that they wouldn’t be perfect for the role – give someone a chance to shine and it might be the best hire you ever make!

6. Look at what packages you’re offering. The gender pay gap within health and safety is 16.6% on average – meaning on average women are paid 83p per hour compared to their male counterparts who are paid £1.

7. Home grow and upskill existing staff. I know of lots of women who started life out in admin roles that had never been afforded the opportunity when they started out to consider a role in construction as it was ‘for the boys’. They now work in project management, quantity surveying and civil engineering because they were given an opportunity internally to transfer and train. The ladies in the support roles I’ve worked with have always been amazing when it comes to time man agent, communication and people skills – all perfectly aligned for roles in project management and many others – it’s about having the opportunity and the awareness of the roles.

8. Celebrate role models within your organisation. Raise the profiles of those already doing amazing things within your businesses. Having role models within the industry really help to challenge the perception that the space is inclusive of everyone.

CREDIT: Mohd Izzuan Roslan / Alamy Stock Photo

9. Challenge respectfully. One of my lovely friends in the industry recently reached out to me after she heard a female friend had been turned down for an industry board position. When the board was announced, they were all middle-aged white men. Now I understand they may have been chosen because they were right for the role and I wholeheartedly support that however, this isn’t always the case. I know this because I’ve felt it too, I’d argue that most women have felt this at some point in their career, so try and challenge these appointments. Furthermore, this is a space where men can support and become allies. If you see this be a voice of support. Having more diversity (gender, socioeconomic background, nationality, academic background, etc.) within teams brings new ideas and depth to the conversations being had.

10. Support women at every stage in their careers. Offer mentoring, training, and coaching and where you see career-limiting behaviours from others – call it out.

11. Go out to schools and colleges to talk about your industry. Most children have never even heard of half of the roles available within the construction industry, and many young girls won’t have ever seen a fellow female in a STEM role.

These points go beyond pro-active implementation, it requires those involved to think outside the box; to appreciate the challenges that females face even after that job has been landed. Being an ally to those that needed it, and ensuring that the focus on retaining talent is just as important as recruiting.

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