We Need to Brick Up Sexism

As the world celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday, there are still some cases of sexual discrimination in the workplace.

It doesn’t matter which industry women work in, it is something they will face, often on a daily basis.

More than two-thirds of women in construction (72%) say they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace – while 9 in 20 of the women say sexual harassment had made an impact on their career, a new report from specialist construction recruiter Randstad reveals.

According to a poll of 4,200 construction workers in the UK, two in every five (41%) women in construction said they had been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments or behavior from a male colleague. Worryingly, this was significantly higher than when similar research was carried out two years ago when 28% of women said they had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace in the form of inappropriate comments or behavior from male colleagues.

Types of gender discrimination experienced by women in construction (%)
Comments/inappropriate behavior from male colleagues 41%
Being excluded from male conversations or social events 26%
Being offered a less important role 23%
Being passed over for a promotion 21%
Being passed over for particular projects/work 19%
Being made redundant 13%
Comments/inappropriate behavior from female colleagues 9%
I have not experienced gender discrimination in the workplace 28%

“Worryingly, more women are reporting problems with inappropriate comments or behavior from male colleagues than two years ago. Hopefully, this does not reflect a huge uptick in sexism – we think it’s more likely that the #MeToo movement has left women in construction empowered and less likely to accept this sort of behavior as ‘banter’.

Owen Goodhead, managing director of Randstad Construction Property & Engineering

Women also reported that the factor that held them back in their career was not sexual harassment but the need to maintain a work-life balance – 50% said that it had had “a lot” or “some” impact on their career.

Factor (%)
Lack of work-life balance 50%
Lack of mentors 50%
A lack of female role models 49%
Lack of training opportunities 47%
Lack of networking opportunities 45%
Sexual harassment 26%

Women in the industry are still encountering an unconscious but pervasive gender bias that is holding them back.  While misogyny and outright sexism are a problem, there are also less obviously malevolent factors at play, too – male-dominated culture and a lack of female role models may be less obnoxious than downright discrimination and sexual harassment but are still pushing women out of the industry.

Why do women leave construction? (%)
Male-dominated culture 47%
Too few senior female role models  38%
Lack of flexible hours 35%
Stress 33%
Long working hours 32%
High costs of childcare 32%
Discrimination 30%
Unconscious bias 25%
Poor maternity rights/pay 22%
Working away from home too often 19%

Change On The Horizon

There are signs things are changing.  Women over 65 were much more likely to report that sexual harassment had had a significant impact on their career (14%) than their younger colleagues (8%).

And the findings revealed 8% of men reported having been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments or behavior from their female colleagues – suggesting this behavior is not solely aimed at women.

“There are some encouraging signs here.  Eighteen years ago, when I started recruiting for construction and property organisations, sexism was still pretty common within the industry. The moment a woman stepped on the site, it began; the analysis of her face, her body, her voice, her demeanour; the scrutiny of her skills, her accomplishments, and her ability. Until recently, one in five companies have no women in senior roles. Less overt sexism was also more frequent.  Back in the day, site gear didn’t fit women, for instance.

“It’s reassuring to see how our data supports the positive advances we are seeing in our industry even if this isn’t as quick as we would like!  The recent advances around the design of PPE to support our diverse workforce is a real achievement.  I am confident that over the next decade, we will start to see more women in senior roles.”

Sarah Sidey, head of strategic accounts at Randstad Property, Construction & Engineering

Initiatives & Solutions

Randstad also asked women what they thought would help women stay in the industry. Half (50%) said more flexible working hours with 42% suggesting better childcare options. A third (33%) said the cultural change was needed.

How to persuade more women to stay in the industry? (%)
Equal growth opportunities for men and women 52%
Flexible working hours 50%
Better childcare options 42%
Culture change 33%
Better maternity rights/pay 28%
More mentors 27%
More serious approach to the management of sexual harassment claims 25%
Available career advice 21%

There are some concrete initiatives that the industry can adopt to stop the flood of women leaving the industry including more flexible working arrangements, and better childcare arrangements.  The worrying thing is that 35% of the women we polled were unaware of any initiatives offered by their own company to try to stem the flow.

About the author: Founded in 1960, Randstad is an international recruitment and HR consultancy headquartered in Diemen, the Netherlands.  It operates in 38 countries, serves 280,000 clients, and employs approximately 38,000 people.  Last year, Randstad trained more than 350,000 people and helped more than two million candidates find jobs, generating €23.7bn worth of revenues.  Randstad N.V. is listed on the NYSE Euronext (symbol: RAND.AS).

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