Opinion

How tech can help eliminate gender barriers in the sector

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Across Europe still, just 9% of the construction industry’s workforce comprises women, leaving a giant talent pool – with a wealth of knowledge, skills, and insights – untapped in an industry already struggling to attract the next generation. How can we address this? Trimble’s Melissa Uribes knows how.

The tides are starting to change as more emphasis is being focused on diversity, and new technologies and tools are creating opportunities. In addition, the current skilled labour shortage is opening up opportunities, and training and mentoring programmes are helping attract more women. 

Let’s take a closer look at five areas that can help narrow the gender gap in construction.

Diversity, equity and inclusion 

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become an issue discussed in boardrooms across the world. One of the aspects in the wider scope of DEI discussions are the efforts to eliminate gender bias. DEI programmes are a positive way to address labour gaps and shortfalls, and a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion provides a welcoming environment for women to succeed in construction-related jobs. 

There are a variety of reasons why this gender bias occurs including hiring managers who rely too heavily on their own networks, which are also limited in diversity. Another reason is that hiring managers can assume female candidates lack specific skills and experience.

Digital transformation

Technology is playing a key role in keeping people connected on, and off, the job site as digital transformation initiatives are becoming more of a priority. The adoption of technology such as building information modeling (BIM), offsite development and prefabrication, onsite robotics, remote collaboration tools and virtual/augmented reality can open up new opportunities for inclusion by eliminating physical, age, geographic and gender barriers. 

These technologies are helping the industry recruit and retain women and other diverse groups who can contribute more innovation and creativity. Technology is also helping to improve productivity and efficiency on the jobsite that can help create more balance and a better quality of life.

Training and education

Educational programmes are a good starting point to raise awareness of opportunities and careers in the construction field among university students. For example, companies like Trimble provide students and educators with access to the latest hardware and software tools via technology labs gifted to select universities worldwide, such as Edinburgh Napier University. 

“The adoption of technology such as BIM, offsite development and prefabrication, onsite robotics, remote collaboration tools and virtual/augmented reality can open up new opportunities for inclusion by eliminating physical, age, geographic and gender barriers.”

Consisting of a customised set of hardware and software solutions, the technology labs provide students with hands-on technical knowledge, while also exposing them to the wide variety of high-tech construction jobs available today. These programmes can prepare students to enter the workforce with the skills needed to operate and optimise technology. 

Role models

A lack of female role models in the construction industry has historically been a contributing factor to attracting more women. However, today there is an increase in support and role models for women. Yet while female business ownership is on the rise, construction still has the least number of female run UK SMEs at 24%. That said, many of these owners serve as mentors and advocates to attract and retain other women. In addition, organisations such as Women into Construction provide advice, training, mentoring and work placements for women new to the industry. 

Skilled labour shortages

Even before the pandemic, the construction industry was facing a huge skilled labour shortage as older workers retired, and younger workers sought jobs in other industries. The trend has accelerated as baby boomers retire, and the pandemic’s travel restrictions have added extra hurdles to filling skilled labour jobs. With more technology and training available industry-wide, and an emphasis on creating more diverse workplaces, women can play a key role in helping address these shortages.

The workforce of the future will look very different than it does today. As construction companies recruit more women who bring new skill sets into the field, now is the time for the industry to take notice and for women to take charge.

Melissa Uribes, SPHR, is vice-president, talent, diversity, equity and inclusion at Trimble Inc.

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