There is a common theme that runs through the property and construction industry: the skills shortage; we simply don’t have enough skilled workers to deliver the volume of construction the country needs. Whilst over the past few years the construction industry and its approach to a diverse workforce has changed dramatically, we are still not quite there; but why is this?
We must inspire girls when they are forming their opinions about their future careers and honing their interests, to look at a career in this varied and dynamic industry and then, once they are on board, make sure we retain them. Ensuring a healthy pipeline of new recruits and skilled professionals is key to the success of the sector.
Construction is a large industry that covers an extremely broad range of professions: from the designers to the specialist, from the brickie to the chippie. This industry will take time to train and adapt and some areas, particularly the site-based areas, will take longer than others. It is a tough and multifaceted industry to work in and, similarly to the other 94% of the workforce, it too needs to be an inclusive industry that seeks the best talent.
There are two areas I believe we need to focus on within the broader term of Skills Shortage. Firstly, education, to feed the industry from the bottom up. Secondly, skills retention; visibility through flexible and agile working. Women in Property Central Scotland will be heavily focused on these two areas over the next year. Schools roadshows will take a team of professionals into our schools at the S1/S2 level where we will engage and challenge the students to ‘try our jobs’, giving first-hand experience of how we work together as a team and how diverse and dynamic our roles are within the construction industry.
The second focus will be on retaining, retraining and resolution, focusing on helping women take that next step in their careers.
Many will be familiar with the McKinsey report Delivering Through Diversity which, in January 2019, again cited greater profitability for those organisations with more women on their boards and with greater gender, ethnic and cultural diversity. So how do we achieve this?
Employers are slowly awakening to the need for a flexible working environment for women and men; but there is the need for women to be more ‘visible’, putting their heads above the parapet which, quite honestly, we’re not very good at.
Starting with Unconscious Bias: we are all conditioned to think and respond in a certain way, whether that is based on implicit prejudice, a feeling of familiarity, preconceptions, appearance and so on. UB applies to all of us. We have an innate tendency to go with what we know and like, but this can play a damaging role in business decision-making, particularly in recruitment and promotion and most notably in relation to ethnicity and gender.
Business is taking this seriously, providing training for staff at all levels to help them recognise UB in themselves and their workplace. Indeed, Women in Property runs bespoke training through our ‘Mid-Career Taskforce’, to help companies improve their gender balance.
‘The overwhelming work benefit of choice was flexible working’
Flexible Working has become a major player in recent years. My colleagues in the Women in Property South West branch undertook a survey with Gapsquare and Rosemont in 2017, of women and men, to explore how the industry can attract more women. The overwhelming work benefit of choice was flexible working, both for women returning after having had children and for those who just wanted flexible hours: the work-life balance.
This relates back to the low number of women in managerial roles at that mid-career level who, through unforgiving work arrangements, have not been able to sustain their career after having had children. The result is the loss of talented, highly skilled women from the industry. Importantly this also highlights how, when offered to employees, flexible working encourages them to work more efficiently and productively, as well as strengthening their loyalty to their employer.
And then there is Visibility. To some extent this relates back to UB. For example, preconceptions among senior managers about who should lead the next development team, be given the promotion, be chosen to represent them on a conference podium. All too often in property and construction, women have not been on the radar.
However, being ‘visible’ in any organisation is not a given. Women know that we have to put ourselves out there, that we have to be seen to be making our mark, grabbing the limelight, not just quietly getting on with it. Finding yourself a mentor will make a real difference at every level of your career. Having someone help steer you through career issues, such as making yourself heard, getting that next promotion, or moving company is a vital tool for moving up the career ladder. All Women in Property members are encouraged to take advantage of our cross-discipline mentoring programme.
So, it is all of these issues which contribute to that common skills shortage theme. In fact, all of them apply to all of us; women and men. In my view it is incumbent on all of us to pull together to create a more diverse working world.
Samantha McCabe is chairman, Women in Property, Central Scotland, and associate, Oberlanders Architects