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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Maternity Trap

It's 2017, men have been given paternity leave and the option to share parental leave but in reality is it ok for them to do it? And by ok, I don't mean legally. Whether implicitly said or not, company culture can pressure employees into making decisions that given a truly free choice, they wouldn't make.

And why is this important? It is important because the culture we create in the workplace for men around parental leave is vital for the culture created around parental leave for women. Something that in its current form, needs to change. Currently in construction, when a women tells her employer she is pregnant, she often gets the support she is looking for, regular meetings to see if she's ok and managing her workload, preparations are made to handover her work to whoever is covering her whilst on leave and then she goes off for her chosen time of parental leave. All of this is great!

The issue comes when she wants to come back. All too often, the construction industry talks the talk but that's where it stops. There seems to be a problem of "knowing what to do with women" when they return from maternity leave and this usually results in them receiving a demotion, too little to do on a day to day basis or they are ignored until they leave their job of their own accord.

The reality is that until we change the culture and encourage men to take leave to care for their children there will be an issue around women returners. The construction environment is such that there are clearly certain roles that can not be done on a part time basis. Something that often means sidelining of women who choose to come back part time. The nature of projects means that female project managers, construction managers, development managers etc struggle to do their job part time because they need to be available full time in order to make decisions and drive projects forward. It is not practical for these roles to be done on a part time basis as meetings, decision making and being on site to oversee project process cant be scheduled around the part time employee. This the nature of the role, rather than anything to do with gender but what isn't just the job is that other roles can be done on a part time basis, such as engineer, QS, trades and yet women are still demoted, given less responsibility and not really given the opportunity to do what they were previously considered capable of.

When only women are able to give birth, the Construction industry needs to assist in making the choice to have children easier to do alongside having a career. At a time where few people have the choice as to whether they return to work employers need to allow women to step back into their roles and take on what they did previously if that is what they want. To sideline a women returning from maternity leave does nothing other than undermine her confidence and ability and deprives companies of talent. In 2017, we should be giving women the support they deserve, the support that the men have had all along.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Construction Gender Pay Gap

So, now that its 2017 are you thinking new year, new you? Planning out all the things you'd like to achieve over the next 12 months? Good for you! It may be a new job, it may be that promotion you've been working towards, it may even be a new qualification but regardless of this, have you thought about pay?

Late last year, there were reports that the UK construction industry had the lowest gender pay gap on record at 16.3% which according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) was down 1.8%.  Whilst some were out there celebrating "hooray for us, we are the lowest", I was thinking that 16.3% is still a pretty large gap. More and more articles have popped up over the last couple of months suggesting a gender pay gap as large as 23.3% and whilst this is based on a tool from the government and the ONS it is still useful to see.

Looking at the data it is easy to see we have a major problem here. How are we supposed to attract women to the industry when the 1% of women working in trades are being paid 15% less than the men? It is a hard enough environment for women to enter and work in without the added information - which is freely available online - that they are also being paid less to do the same job. With technology what it is, strength plays a minimal part in trades and can no longer be used as an excuse.

Looking to the professional roles its a much less gloomy picture. Civil Engineers earn 2.8% more than male counterparts whilst project managers earn 3.2% less with female Chartered Surveyors earning 0.9%. The big gaps are evident in architecture where female architects earn 9% less then male architects which further compounds the data that architecture is primarily made up of older, white males from privileged backgrounds - an old boys club of sorts that looks after its own.

The skills gap, the gender imbalance and the pay gap in the construction industry are all inter-linked and as a result, more needs to be done to address all three issues if we are ever to eliminate even one of them. To address the skills gap, we should look to attract women to the industry (as part of the solution), to attract women, we need to ensure that they are not on the back foot from the get go, feeling under valued knowing they earn less for the same role. Once something is done to address this, perhaps more women would join the industry reducing the imbalance even slightly.

To me, it seems obvious that a gender pay gap is lose lose for everyone. For the women doing the jobs, they feel resentment knowing that the guy sitting next to them doing exactly the same job is most likely getting paid around 20% more than them. What is the incentive to work as hard? This demonstrates why companies lose out - all companies presumably want their employees to produce results. Why wouldn't you pay all your employees based on merit rather than gender. Then they gain an incentive to be as productive as possible. Then there are the men in this situation.

Whilst majority of people would not care if their colleagues were being paid less than them regardless of the reason, it should matter on a general level. Being paid more based on gender de-values your work. The reality is that they aren't only being paid more because they are good at what they do, they are being paid that much because they are male.

Why wouldn't you want your partner to earn the same regardless of gender? Together, you would then have more income. And do you think your mum or your sister or your mate should be paid less despite being great at their jobs just because they happen to be female? It just doesn't make sense. Women earning the same as men doesn't change what men earn, it shouldn't change anything other than it makes women feel that they are valued despite their gender and it is right that they should.

What is a different matter is pay based on merit... something I think will be more important once the headlines read "Gender pay gap % in Construction". Hopefully we will see this headline soon!