MEG Munn, a former MP and Minister for Women and Equality, joined the board of Esh Group in 2015. Having been involved in the establishment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Meg brings a wealth of experience to the North East-based construction firm. She is now helping Esh Group to lead the field in attracting more women into the industry.
“THERE are many professions which have changed a lot in the past few years, and now have significantly more women in them,” says Meg Munn – referencing the medical and law sectors. This progress was down to willingness to change industry cultures and tackle some of the barriers that prevent women accessing roles equally.
The one-time Minister for Women and Equality now has the construction industry – one of the largest employers in the UK – in her sights. It’s a sizeable challenge. The Office for National Statistics shows women make up 11% of the construction workforce, and just 1% of workers on site. The number of women who work as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers are so low as to be unmeasurable.
Meg admits that progress has been “abysmally slow”. The gender pay gap, inadequate site facilities and workplace culture still pose barriers – but she’s positive.
Businesses can make a huge difference,” she says. “By championing the women in their workforce and seeking to recruit more women they can make the workplace better for all.
Esh Group’s ‘Building My Skills’ programme is an example of how employers can help. The scheme puts industry role models into schools so that youngsters can find out what it’s like to pursue careers in construction, engineering and technology. This need for female role models was cited as key in Meg’s 2014 Smith Institute report, Building the Future: women in construction.
Meg explains: “There needs to be a projection of working in these areas as positive and interesting. Work by organisations such as the Women in Science, Technology and Engineering (WISE) campaign and its “People Like Me” project could help change girl’s views on careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“There also needs to be greater support for older women to enter the STEM workforce. Women who have some life experience often are better able to enter careers in these areas, but apprenticeships are often only aimed at young people.”
Meg’s believes the industry needs to focus on its image and the perception of careers in the construction sector.
She adds: “Perception is fundamental to attracting and retaining women to industries like construction. Through the likes of Building My Skills, or the WISE campaign’s People Like Me scheme, we need to offer young women a picture of a well-paid career in a modern, progressive workplace. At the same time employers must tackle stubborn barriers in the workplace such as lack of flexible working, on-site facilities and equipment suited to women.”
Meg hopes that today’s young women entering the construction industry will, in a few years’ time, have transformed into confident tradespeople who will inspire their daughters those of their friends and neighbours.
This is important because of the prognosis for the construction industry workforce. Around one in five construction workers is approaching retirement age, and a further 26% are between 45 and 55 years old. Replacing these retirees alone presents a big recruitment challenge. There will be an estimated 12 million future vacancies in the construction industry and the Employment Minister urged women to take advantage of this huge need for workers.
Meg adds: “Getting more women into STEM industries is vital if we are to tackle the skills gap. Businesses cannot afford to turn their backs on half the workforce, nor can government. Now is the time to tackle inequality, and safeguard the future of construction.”