How to manage the risks of being a woman in construction: Using the 6 principles of Health & Safety.

It’s the half-way point of our questions from Becky and this week we have changed the question slightly as we feel it will still provide the right answer. First a recap of what we have looked at:

  • If the industry is so hostile to the idea of women being in construction, why would / should women choose it? (How to manage the risks of being a woman in construction)
  • If men don’t like the construction industry, why would women?
  • What do women have to gain by going into the construction industry instead of another industry that is already accommodating to her needs?
  • What are the risks and what are the potential gains?
  • Is it worth it in the end?

For the actual reasons why women should choose construction, look at this earlier blog; in this post I am going to focus on the things you should consider when making that choice and the tools you can use to manage your own career better.

Being an ex-site manager I thought it might be useful to look at this though the eyes of the Health & Safety principles.






But first to the reasons why they are needed.

Let’s get this clear, it’s not that the industry and everyone in it is hostile to women. More that, as we highlighted last week, isolated groups or individuals can have a serious impact. On top of that there are less “hostile” actions such as sub-conscious bias and over-protection that can impact significantly on individuals’ careers.

Your role in the sector will dictate not only the types of challenges you might face but also the extent of the effect that they are able to have on you.
For example, if you are discriminated against in an office environment and work with other women in a similar role who are understanding and supportive and you are aware of the internal procedures to follow you are likely to feel supported.  Especially if the role also provides you with a good work life balance with regards to working hours (less than 37.5 hours per week), challenging work and routes to promotion.
If, though, you face discrimination on an isolated site where you are the only female (substitute gender here for any minority) and don’t feel there is support from your colleagues because they joined in a little and you‘re unaware of internal HR procedures because you have so little interaction from them, you might not feel as supported.  Particularly, if you are also working long hours (<50hrs per week average), have work that does not challenge you and have been unable to progress you career.
These are, of course, two extremes; the point being that the industry is not hostile to everyone all the time, but it’s handy to recognise the situations that are likely to be most difficult.  You can then decide if you are prepared to risk being put into these situations or not and manage around it where possible.

When I worked in the sector I felt that the fact that I was a woman was unimportant; it was my ability to do my job that counted. As my career progressed I realised that simply wasn’t true; just because it didn’t affect my ability to do my job, didn’t mean that other people wouldn’t see it that way and treat me different anyway.

This is why I would say it’s not that you shouldn’t work in construction, it’s that you should go in prepared; so let’s use health and safety tools to help us do that: –
Eliminate – First do a bit of reading – find out some of the experiences people have had in the sector and decide what you would not be prepared to risk. Eliminate the roles with high occurrences of behaviour that you would find unacceptable and keep the ones with smaller amounts. People have different tolerance levels so remember to pick what’s right for you and no one else.
Reduce – Now look a bit deeper – which companies provide strong support and are as a minimum aware of these issues? Try and pick a company that at least acknowledges you might have a different experience to men.
Isolate – Or in this case don’t – build yourself a network that you can relate to. Inside or outside the organisation; this does not have to be women or be all the same thing. You might have a senior male manager as a mentor, some male site managers that you have a drink with once a month and a formal externalnetworking group for women that you go to three times a year. What’s important is that you take a proactive stance by putting this network in place. NB  if you have  a networking group  you would like to see on our links page just drop us a line and let us know.
Control – Make sure that you talk to your managers on site about your expectations – tell them what you want from the role and where you want to go. If you think you can discuss with them what should happen if behaviours occur, keep it professional and positive and explain you’re sure things will be fine but this way everyone is on the same page. Also keep a diary if unacceptable behaviour happens; you don’t need to use it but its there as a back-up in case you do.
PPE – Dress smart and professionally – your clothes say a lot about you, even though they probably shouldn’t. If you want to progress, dress for where you want to go. Obviously, roles like site engineering or trades will murder a good suit before the week is out, but when you go to meetings in Head Office, or for other site roles that don’t have you wading around in man-holes, dress up.  Show you are a professional first, a builder second and a woman third when you are at work.
Discipline – If unacceptable behaviour happens, know in advance how you are going to deal with it.  This might seem negative, but it will give you a proactive plan and help you to feel in control of the situation. Be aware of your HR policies and try and get to know your HR team well, so if an issue occurs you have a friend to speak to not just a colleague.

You’ll find there are a lot of companies who genuinely want to increase their numbers of women and simply do not know, or understand, some of the challenges they face. Make it your mission to help them; don’t be ashamed of your gender or difference and don’t let others let you be demeaned, or demean you. Most people (myself included) say crass things because they don’t know any better; if all women in the sector started educating it a little I think we’d find ourselves, men and women alike, all a little bit better off.

Part Three – Why are men hostile about women being in construction? Identifying 3 main types and how to deal with it.

The third in a series of blogs looking into women in construction, this week we attempt to answer “Why are men hostile about women being in construction?” The questions come from Becky and will be answered in the following order.

  • Why should women choose construction?
  • Why shouldn’t women choose construction?
  • Why are men hostile about women being in construction?
  • If the industry is so hostile to the idea of women being in construction, why would / should women choose it?
  • If men don’t even like the construction industry, why would women?
  • What do women have to gain by going into the construction industry instead of another industry that is already accommodating to her needs?
  • What are the risks and what are the potential gains?
  • Is it worth it in the end?

Why are men hostile about women being in construction?

The majority of men on site are not hostile about women working in the sector and it would be dangerous and insulting to think differently, that’s not to say that there are not issues such as subconscious bias that need to be overcome. But that happens with women towards women (even ones working in construction) as well, so I shall cover it in more detail in a later blog if you request it.

There are though, some men that do act in a way that can be hostile; this behaviour can be overt and plain to see and in my opinion far easier to handle. Then there’s covert; much trickier to spot and likely to make the person on the receiving end feel unsure of what is actually going on. The reason this is such an issue on site because more often than not the perpetrators of this behaviour are usually people with power, either given (in charge on the job) or taken (social – e.g. the natural leader) others are likely to follow their behavioural patterns. This is for a number of reasons including lack of knowledge around the true motives of the perpetrator, peer pressure or for an easy life, who hasn’t laughed along at something they know to be wrong to fit in and to protect the group; we all have our stereotypes to fit into and our loyalties to protect.

It’s important to bear in mind this is a very power related issue and that means it’s more likely to occur where one has power over another, for example a female site manager is more likely to face hostility from same-level peers, or above, than from subcontractors. This is, of course, likely to be obvious to anyone who has worked on site; if someone is linked to how you get paid, you’re less likely to be in a pain in the arse.

So why then the extreme hostility?

We shall look at three main reasoning’s and look at why they occur, how the symptoms can be displayed and how you can look to overcome them: –

  • Fear
  • Self-preservation (promotion)
  • Misogyny



Fear of what might happen to a woman on site, could accidently end up in court.


The easiest of the three, sometimes site environments push people into thinking they can’t ask for help and it’s seen as a weakness, This coupled with a big lack of knowledge around equality law, women in the sector and management skills can mean that some managers simply don’t know what to do or how to ask for help. This then leads to fear; fear that they might put their foot in it and end up in court; fear that the “lads” on site might say something that ends you them up in court and; fear that the women in question will be like one of “those women” that cause trouble.


Managing women in construction away from environments they perceived to be harmful (more filing duties, in office away from site), references to political correctness.


Where possible try and have a conversation with your boss about how you feel about being on site and your ambition. Explain what you will and won’t accept in terms of language and make it clear he has nothing to fear regarding your interaction with other staff, unless of course they cross a line, in which case, you will inform him and warn the individual in the first instance, not run straight to a court room. Also make it your responsibility to protect and support other women in construction, you’ll be surprised how many women in the sector who are classed as “that type of woman” are actually a lot like you, they just had to manage a hostile environment without support.

 Self Preservation

Women might rock the boat or get “their” promotion


Women are much more likely to point out a social injustice, so an alpha heading a group will see women (in fact anyone who is different to them or the main group) as a threat to their position. Research has found that in these circumstances alphas can subconsciously influence the group into thinking the threat is to the group, not the alpha individual, and this is where you can see groups acting out of character and isolating individuals. Secondly, the equality agenda has been misinterpreted over the years and led people to believe you can give some people jobs based solely on their status as a woman, asian man, person living with a disability, etc. This isn’t true, but that doesn’t seem to matter to some people.


Become isolated from the group, your work is subject to additional checks (more than peers), appraisals are non-descript,


A word to the wise, the people behind this behaviour are usually very political; they don’t play fair and will cover their tracks. You have a few choices the first is to get them on side, look at their ambitions and consider how you could help them achieve them, make sure they know you are there to help and thus eliminating the threat and instead being seen as useful. This doesn’t always work of course and in such cases make sure you keep a detailed diary of any events that might seem small and insignificant, they can add up to so much more and protect you against any accusations that might be levied.


Some men do not like women, it can manifest itself in any of the ways described above and unfortunately more. It’s here that it should be mentioned that sexual harassment, be that physical or language, is usually more about power and “putting women in their place” than it ever is about sex, so if you do encounter this try and acknowledge it for what it is and ensure you make a note as it in case the situation progresses.


Research shows us that it is not the behaviour of individuals that force women to leave companies, it’s the support they receive or feel they should receive from their organisations. Most women do not report instances as they do not feel they will be taken seriously, and that is not good for companies looking to retain key talent.

In closing, individuals seek out a company that will have a dialogue with you around what to do if you face an issue, stay professional if something occurs and try not to display your emotions if possible – I know this is hard but unfortunately you are more likely to be seen as weak and out of control than as a credible employee.

Organisations, let your staff, especially those on site, know you support them before they have to ask for it. Know what you would do if these situations arise and have someone in-house who has read a bit of research on the barriers women face in the sector. At the very least have someone external you can call for advice in this area, it’s never easy and usually both sides feel wronged but there is generally a solution if handled in the right way.

As usual we encourage your comments,

Part two – Why shouldn’t women choose construction 5 reasons across the career path.

Following on from last week’s blog where we answered the question “Why women should chose construction?” we are continuing to answer a stream of questions sent in by Becky in the following order: –
·         Why shouldn’t women choose construction?
·         Why are men hostile about women being in construction?
·         If the industry is so hostile to the idea of women being in construction, why would / should women choose it?
·         If men don’t even like the construction industry, why would women?
·         What do women have to gain by going into the construction industry instead of another industry that is already accommodating to her needs?
·         What are the risks and what are the potential gains?
·         Is it worth it in the end?”
The blog inspired a lot of comments via twitter, email and the comment section below and we would encourage even more for this one, as we feel it’s a tricky subject.
Firstly if you have a passion, interest or aptitude in an area I would always encourage you to explore it (within reason) and that’s true of construction. I am a massive fan of the industry for all the reasons stated in the last blog and more. If I had my time again I would still make the same career choices. That being said there is evidence that the experience of many (though, of course, not all) women working in the sector is not quite what they had expected and whilst the scenarios discussed below are not faced by all women, and are not necessarily reasons to avoid the sector, it is always best to know what you might be getting yourself into.
I do think that for every problem there is a solution so I have tried to provide some examples of how to overcome these challenges where possible.
It should be noted that different sectors of the industry face different challenges and so I am going to try and highlight if you are likely to experience this under “trade”, “site management”, “consultant” for ease.
1.    Recruitment.
Trade – Many women working in the trades have reported that they have faced challenges when applying for roles many having been asked to interview and then subjected to unacceptable comments.
Solution – Companies that work for the public sector are subject to different legal requirements and therefore are far more likely to provide a positive experience, so apprenticeships with councils and housing associations should always be high on your list. Also, look out for employers using positive action to publicise roles (this is where they have comments like “women are encouraged to apply”); these are companies that are actively looking to diversify their workforce and therefore likely to be professional and positive about employing you.
2.    Employment
Site Management – There can be a tendency of men who have never worked with women outside of a traditional occupation to become paternal and try and protect the woman from what they perceive as things that might be harmful. These often include things like “raucous men” “dirty sites” and “physical work”. The issue here is that although the intention is good the outcome is not favourable for women looking to progress in their careers. Women who are protected from these things often miss out on valuable opportunities that mean their careers slip behind those of their male colleagues. The fact that construction work is project based means that this often happens every time you work with a new team, therefore having a serious effect on your career.
Solution – When placed on a new site take your site/project manager aside and talk to him about what you expect from the job, be plain about the scope of your role and your ambitions and encourage them to feel ok about asking questions regarding how you personally feel about working in a site environment. Whilst the majority of women working on site know and enjoy the site environment, we should never forget our managers sometimes aren’t aware of that and whilst their actions to protect us  can be damaging and discriminatory they come from a good place; which means it only takes a little education to avoid this becoming an issue.
Please note this is not to imply this behaviour is ok, only that it exists and can be easily changed if the individual is genuinely looking after what they perceive to be your best interests.
3.    Development
Consultant When we look to improve ourselves we usually look up and find a role model to imitate, this can be difficult in the construction sector if you are looking for a woman up there as there is a bit of a gap. That’s not to say such women don’t exist, just that it can be tricky to find them if you don’t know where to look. This can be a problem for some who feel they need to see someone like them in the role they aspire to in order to achieve.
Solution – Find someone, really do. Read the trade papers and scour LinkedIn until you find someone in a position you aspire to who reflects your values and, if important to you, your gender. When you’ve found them, write to them, with consideration, and ask them to mentor you. Outline what you feel it will entail e.g. a meeting a month and explain why you have chosen them (flattery is a persuasive line). The worst you will get is no response, if you’re lucky you might just get a direct line to the top.
4.    Promotion
All – There are a number of factors that can hamper a woman’s chance of promotion in a male dominated industry. Such as: –
  • ·         Women tend to hold out till they are 100% qualified before going for a promotion, whereas men will on average apply when they are 70% there. Further to this, because women know they are qualified they will sell themselves less at interview stage and expect the qualifications to speak for themselves.
  • ·         We tend to promote in our own image, so we employ people like ourselves which means in all male environments women are at a disadvantage.
  • ·         Sometimes in industry, especially on site, soft management is not recognised and rewarded as a skill whereas a more aggressive style is. This can mean women miss out
  • ·         Traditionally women are judged on what they have done, whilst men are judged on their potential to do.
  • ·         Subconscious bias is very important in how we select for any role. Personally, I work on the basis that I might be biased and work around reducing it. This article provides a really good example of how this works.
If you look up and you see a fair gender balance or a group of people saying we get there are equality issues and we are working to overcome them you should be ok. If though, you see only one gender or comments such as “diversity doesn’t matter” or “I treat everyone equally” you might have cause for concern.
Solution – Read up a bit on subconscious bias; understand what it is you might be up against and work around it by challenging commonly held views and pulling people up if they express them – even about someone else. Also, consider your own approach to promotion; do you put yourself forward enough? Try and network as much as you can and tell people about how well your projects are going so when promotions come up you’re in people’s minds.
5.    Maternity.
All – Yep I said it, apparently women have babies and sometimes it makes people reluctant to carry on employing them. Sounds a bit old fashioned, but unfortunately it’s still common in our experience. Returning to work, maternity leave, long hours and confidence are all part of the mix which makes this a troublesome area. Read this article to get a better idea of some people’s experiences.
Solution – It’s a difficult one and will depend upon your employer so you need to test the water; you are of course protected by the Equality Act 2010 but we know this has, at times, just made employers more paranoid. Try to talk to your employer, stay in touch whilst you’re away and get support from other women in your position. You can also put together a business case for a good maternity policy, which would include how it would help retain staff (really), inspire loyalty and pave the way for the new paternity laws.
Obviously we have only outlined some of the experiences women have had in industry, if you have had an experience you would like to mention, or if you disagree with the points we have raised,  please comment below or email us if you would prefer confidence.


  1. Interesting blog. I think one point to mention is that establishing credibility can sometimes be more challenging and necessary for women on site, than for men. To do this we should make an extra effort to prepare for our meetings, ask smart questions and speak up in meetings. We also need to have the self confidence to stand our ground when challenged. I find once you’ve set your standards and shown that you won’t be easily intimidated, people will respect you for it! This doesn’t mean we need to be harsh or rude, just confident.


  2. Thanks, to sharing this article, it’s really interesting article. I think, today women’s are challenges to men. But construction field is very difficult task for the females. The simple fact that construction work is project based work means that this frequently occurs every time you work with a new team, therefore having a really serious impact on your profession. We are any job for some task such as interest, passion, greater good, making a level, progression, finance, parental impact, existing knowledge, competitors and opportunity. Strategic Analysis 


Why should women choose construction? 8 pertinent questions from a woman that did.

Part one – Why should women choose construction?

Following on from the “business argument for diversity in construction” blog that we wrote back in April 2012, we recently found this comment hidden in our approval archives.

Chrissi – I was searching for some answers about women in construction when I came across your blog. I’m so glad to see a blog about women in construction. I’ve been in the industry for 4 years and am only now reconsidering my choice. I never imagined it would be such a struggle. Now I’m trying to answer some questions that I’ve realised since facing adversity. Perhaps you could answer these with the research and knowledge you have already done. Why should women choose construction? Why shouldn’t women choose construction? Why are men hostile about women being in construction? If the industry is so hostile to the idea of women being in construction, why would / should women choose it? If men don’t even like the construction industry, why would women? What do women have to gain by going into the construction industry instead of another industry that is already accommodating to her special needs? What are the risks and what are the potential gains? Is it worth it in the end?”

Becky, the writer raises some important points so; I shall do my best to answer them.
There are 8 questions here which I shall look to answer over the month so that you are not swamped with too much information at once.
Why should women choose construction?
That’s a question that really is determined by a number of factors, first you need to consider the reasons why people choose any job; we thought of nine –
  • ·         Financial
  • ·         Greater good
  • ·         Leaving a mark
  • ·         Passion
  • ·         Progression
  • ·         Parental influence
  • ·         Existing knowledge
  • ·         Peers
  • ·         Chance


Then we need to consider how construction motivates these decisions –
Financial – the construction industry is often a well-paid industry, obviously at the moment in the midst of the recession that’s a difficult point to haggle; but that’s because we have a traditional boom and bust cycle. What’s important to understand is that roles dominated by women (known as the five Cs Catering, Caring, Cashiers, Cleaning and Clerical) are the least well paid and in a recession they suffer even worse. So from a financial perspective you are better off as a woman choosing a  a non-gender-traditional career – so why not construction? (I’ll cover that in the next blog post)
Greater good – Women are often linked to what’s called greater good roles, such as nursing. This is a big nature / nurture debate and I’ll admit I’m not sold either way especially since most people look to achieve greater good later in their worklife, so I think it would be a mistake to tar a whole gender with this brush (and un-tar the other at the same time). I would argue that working in some construction roles such as environmental consultant could be seen as greater good but it would be the individual who decides if that’s the change they want to make in the world.
Leaving a mark – Find me a builder who hasn’t dragged a poor uninterested spouse / friend / stranger half a mile out of the way to look at a warehouse / office block / bus station to say “I built that!” and I’ll insist they show me their CSCS card as proof of their profession. The feeling of building something is remarkable and a biological attraction for humans; we seek to be remembered once we are gone and whether that’s through our children, our ideas or building a great, big, chuffing building is pretty much just gravy.
Passion – Sometimes people just really, really, really love building stuff

Progression – The construction industry is great at many things and one of them is progression; day release programmes and apprenticeships, whilst not what they were, are still options. It’s an industry where you can leave school with basic qualifications and end up a director. Personally it’s one of my favourite things about construction; the way that it transforms lives, and I credit it for transforming mine (though in a slightly roundabout way I will admit)
Parental Influence – It used to be that 60% of people in industry made their choice because someone close worked in the sector, but this number is estimated to have fallen.
Existing knowledge – The careers we often choose are those we know of or have heard about, though this is a barrier to most people without a family or friend in the sector. I once asked a room of 15 connexions officers (careers advisors) to name careers in the built environment; they could only name Brickie, Plumber and Architect – I kid you not.
So no one really knows about the wonderful career choices available in the sector, which is a pity as I am a firm believer that construction holds a career for just about everyone. I cannot think of a general discipline that can’t be catered for –
Maths               Site engineer, structural engineers, civil engineer
Art                    Architect
Psychology      Site manager (I stand by that)
Science                        Geotechnical engineer
Finance             QS
History              Restoration and heritage
English             Contracts law
This lack of knowledge is something that is seen as a barrier not just to girls, but to boys as well.
Peers – Most people at 16 don’t want to be too different; they want to do what their friends do. So whilst this is usually a reason why women don’t pick a career in industry, I have seen examples of where it has worked the other way with groups of girls embarking on joinery courses together.
Chance – Sometimes we just need a job, and somehow we get one.
Personally I chose it as I simply loved building things, figuring out puzzles, working with teams and, of course, saying “I built that!”

Is 60 hours a week still the average for those managing sites?- Minimum wage and construction.

Recently the HMRC announced that it had made a £4m clampdown on companies who had failed to pay minimum wage to their staff. This included companies who required staff to work outside of contracted hours without pay even where they were salaried.  One company had to pay back more than £193,000 to 3,500 staff.working hours

This got me to thinking about pay and hours in the sector and the fact that many organisations might be sailing a little too close to the wind even if they are not aware of it. For companies who ensure 40 hour- weeks there is little to worry about, but where this creeps up to 60 hours we might have an issue. Remember, if you are working on site the travel to and from work can count as your working hours as it is classed as extraordinary – in other words, you couldn’t move closer to your job as it moves regularly; where this happens the hours can be included in your working day.

When I worked on site, if you included travel time, then 60 – 70 hour weeks were the norm depending upon the need to work evenings and weekends.  If we therefore base the maths on an average of 62 hours worked each week  and you are asking those hours of your staff but paying them less than £20,000pa, you could be breaching the law.

The law aside, we need to consider the message that this sends to people in construction about how they are valued by the business. Have a look at how the following salaries look when compared next to their hourly wage based on a 62 hour working week – it’s hardly enticing is it?

Salary Hourly Wage
£20,000 £6.30
£25,000 £7.75
£30,000 £9.30
£35,000 £10.80
£45,000 £13.96


If we are looking to attract the best people in the sector we need to start considering how well our pay stacks up to their input, otherwise we will not only struggle to attract the best people into the sector but also  find ourselves in an industry where those that do remain are burnt out and under appreciated.

Happy Building

Chrissi x