The ‘boys only club’ perception of the construction sector is beginning to erode, new research has found with 66% of younger women now saying that they would consider working in construction or currently work in construction, up from 17% from 2023.
Meanwhile, a campaign to ensure that women entering the building and construction sectors have access to gender-appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) has addressed the pressing need for proper clothing for female workers.
In 2020, over two fifths (44%) of young people believed a career in construction was dominated by men. In 2024 this was now 39%, with just under a third (32%) of those surveyed saying they had considered a career in construction.
The survey of 1,000 young adults by housebuilder Redrow found that young women were attracted primarily by the salaries on offer (39%), the opportunity to have a long-term career (26%) and the ability to set up their own business later down the line (25%).
The increase in women entering the sector was partly attributed to a rise in female role models, Redrow stated. More than two-fifths (42%) of women surveyed want to work for a company that has female or LGBTQ leaders.
Apprenticeships were seen as a viable route into the sector, the analysis found; two in five (41%) 16 to 24-year-olds associated apprenticeships with the ability to earn while studying and not incurring student debt.
Darryl Stewart, responsible for the National House Building Council’s apprentice training programmes and hubs, said: “In recent years, house builders have found it more challenging to recruit people for a range of reasons. Historically, it’s an industry which has been perceived as being more male-dominated and currently it’s also facing an ageing workforce. This means we must find ways to encourage people from all walks of life to join the sector.”
Inclusive PPE for women
Among the barriers women have faced in the sector is the lack of purpose-designed PPE. To address this, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has launched a new initiative to drive awareness around the lack of inclusive PPE in the market. This impacts health and safety on site, and hampers the industry’s ability to attract and retain a more diverse workforce, said the institute.
The campaign, called #PPEthatfits, aims to persuade suppliers to provide appropriate PPE for their workforce, to put pressure on manufacturers to make PPE that fits and to encourage the creation of new BSI standards allowing for the provision of PPE that acknowledges gender, religious, cultural considerations.
The campaign also features a directory of suppliers who provide PPE for women.
CIOB president Sandi Rhys Jones said such PPE was “particularly important for women, but there are men [who are important to this change] as well. We don’t want to be exclusive, we want to be inclusive.”
According to Helen Gawor, director of strategy and innovation at construction firm ISG, there is a clear “lack of understanding” of the reasons why women need adequate PPE. “It’s not just about aesthetics and comfort: it’s about safety. Unisex doesn’t suit the shapes and sizes that we are.”
The Considerate Constructors Scheme, which checks sites across the UK, has responded to the campaign by adopting inclusive PPE for women.
New BSI standards covering PPE for women are said to be under way. Stephanie Eynon, head of standards-makers engagement and inclusion at BSI, said: “Our experts … have already started to examine the current standards for PPE and how they can play a role in driving progress on this issue. We know the challenge impacts many industries and all around the world, not just in the UK and we have the opportunity to change that, benefiting individuals, organisations and society.”