Why are there fewer women in construction than there were 10 years ago?

We hear a lot about how to attract more women into construction, and I’ve already ranted at length about how difficult that will be when the industry is dominated by middle aged white men who all buy their suits from the same shop.

I’m shocked by today’s labour force statistics from the ONS, however, which show that the number of women working in the construction industry has actually FALLEN 16% in the past 10 years. This can’t be blamed on the recession’s effect on the industry, as the number of men has fallen by only 4.2% in the same period.

What’s going on? Why is only 11.7% of the construction workforce female?

I don’t have any answers as to why women have left the industry in greater numbers than men, but I have researched a few ideas that I had…

Maybe unemployment is higher?

I did a check on the 2006 and 2016 unemployment rates. The level in 2006/2007 pre-recession was very similar to now overall but of course there was a huge spike between 2009 and 2014. The female unemployment rate is similar at 5% between 2006 and 2016, so it’s not that women found it harder to find employment post recession than men did.

This raises another question…did women in construction suffer more from the recession than men did?

Unfortunately I couldn’t turn up any data on this. I’ll keep looking, and would be grateful for any references readers can send me. What I did find was the latest (2013) publication from the ONS on Women in the Labour Market.

This notes that women with children are less likely to work than those without. Okay. Perhaps when we didn’t have jobs, we went and had babies instead?

Source: ONS

Let’s check out those birth rates…

Here, I think we might just have figured it out. Look at this;

Data from IndexMundi

From 2010, the birth rate climbs much higher than at any time in the recent past. Is this because of the recession? I’ll leave that to cleverer minds — but it seems likely.

Now that the recession baby-boom seems to be ending, it’ll be interesting to see whether the number of women in construction rises again over the next 5 years, as women return to work. My prediction is that it will, but not as quickly as you might think.

Come back, baby…

There are still huge barriers for women wishing to return to work in construction and related disciplines. 30% of women leave their jobs each year due to poor maternity rights. The last DTI statistics I could find on the subject (2003) showed that 15% of construction employers gave female workers more than 18 weeks statutory leave, compared with a national average of 27%. Twenty-eight per cent of the sector operated “keep in touch” or retraining schemes, compared with an average of 59%.

Concluding

What’s the takeaway from this? Well, for me, it’s that the ONS is the most wonderful rabbit hole full of facts and figures I have ever seen, and I’ll never complain about paying taxes ever again. On the face of it, this is a bit of a ‘non story’. More women had babies and more women left the workforce. The important question now is, how many of them will come back?

I’d love to know what you think. Please comment below and let me know!