There has been a large number of studies done since the 19th century, highlighting the challenges women face in male-dominated industries. An even more alarming amount of research was undertaken after “female friendlier” 20th century. Research in the 20th century focused on challenges women in the construction industry face, whether it is in entering or remaining in the industry. It was interesting to note that even though these studies were undertaken independently of each other, there were a few common factors in all the papers that highlighted. These key papers and factors challenged the status quo and put to question other issues women deal with.
The factors I have identified in my research are presented in this blog with elaboration on each factor. The overall aim in putting together this blog was not to leave female readers feeling defeated but rather, I hope that it becomes a part of a narrative that encourages women in this sector to carry on holding it down and changing the outdated social behavioural norms this industry is built upon despite the hardships. Their time of existence is up!
Factors discussed include:
- The image of the industry,
- Career knowledge,
- Culture and working environment,
- Male-dominated training courses and
- Family commitments.
The studies showed that the general image of the sector was a huge deciding factor for both men and women however, it presents more pressures to women. Studies found to illustrate the sector’s image as highly militant as it is a male-dominated sector requiring brute strength, good tolerance for outdoor conditions, inclement weather and bad language and experts have suggested that it is mainly this image that makes females uninterested in gaining entry in the sector.
To add fuel to the fire, the sector has also been infamously defined as being among the most chauvinistic with an extremely macho culture which is hostile and discriminatory to women. This often results in women having to act like men to be successful, or leave if they are not adaptable to the culture. Or they remain in the industry without behaving like men but then they maintain unimportant positions with no real power to make impactful decisions.
The academic training offered by institutions and training organizations create a host of problems for women where they are faced with general disbelief either while in school from the instructors or when they enter the working world from their colleagues that they could be technically competent. My findings also illustrated that women tend to lack access to informal networks that provide access to high-profile development opportunities. Furthermore, women have limited offers presented to them or limited access to a range of developmental experiences and activities that build the credibility they need to advance in this industry. I am uncertain though if the latter finding is due to the academic structures of the sector or the companies hiring these females just not being open to offering these opportunities to them.
And finally, the child-bearing problem, a never-ending issue for women with career aspirations in any sector. I did not need to do much research on this last factor as it touches a personal aspect of my life. The demands the construction industry places on personal relationships is tremendous and damaging. My father was a civil engineer, employed a director in the Department of Transport KZN. The constant site meetings, inspections and whatever else he had on his plate put a strain on our father-daughter bond. Simply put, he was never home and this is a reality for a lot of site-based employees, they are usually subject to the location needs and potential change. As a result, I moved around a lot as a kid and just working at Leads 2 Business and interacting with professionals daily-basis, I am sad to say that the industry is still failing to appreciate some of the issues associated with combining work and family commitments and because of the childbearing innate character in most females, finding a balance between work and family could be a huge factor that poses difficulties for women in the industry.
In closing, I will use the words by Zara Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, the architect-designer for the London Aquatics Centre for the Olympic Games.
“ It’s still very difficult for women to operate as professionals because there are still some worlds women have no access to. No matter what you do, because you’re a woman, you cannot enter. Sometimes the difficulties are incomprehensible. You cannot believe the enormous resistance I’ve faced just for being an Arab, and a woman on top of that. The moment my woman-ness is accepted, the Arab-ness seems to become a problem. I’ve broken beyond the barrier, but it’s been a very long struggle. It’s made me tougher and more precise – and maybe this is reflected in my work. I still experience resistance, but I think this keeps you on the go.”
I think that sums up the rewards of perseverance in the industry. Just keep going. It will pay off!
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