Careers, Opinion

The army leads the way on hiring more women

Construction could learn from the military when it comes to female recruitment, says Steve Hammond
Image: Dreamstime
Image: Dreamstime

Three years ago the British armed forces finally opened all roles to women. Since then applications for the frontline have doubled and 20% of the 80,000 applicants the army received last year were female. Construction needs to learn a lesson or two from the military.

My career began in the Royal Engineers and I spent 24 years in the army, completing tours in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, rising through the ranks to warrant officer class 1 (military plant foreman).

During that time I was chiefly in the company of other men. Although women held roles in the military, none were in close combat and that only changed in December 2018, when it was decided that our armed forces should be determined by ability alone and not gender.

“Huge changes in policy and commitment can take place over a very short period of time to make an industry seem modern, attractive and rewarding – for women as well as men”

Since then, the army has upped its game in demonstrating commitment to taking action to create an inclusive culture, recognising that diversity makes them stronger. Last year it was named one of The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women. This is quite a feat for a historically old-fashioned and male-dominated organisation but it has set a real example to us in construction.

What it reveals is that huge changes in policy and commitment can take place over a very short period of time to make an industry seem modern, attractive and rewarding – for women as well as men.

Only about 13% of the entire construction industry is made up of women and the majority of these are office-based roles. And yet there is so much potential for growth in the sector, which has suffered a skills gap in recent years.

In order to recruit – and particularly to attract women – we have to change stereotypes. Advertising has been highlighted as one of the problems for the lack of female representation in the industry, so we need to see and hear from more role models.

We also need to engage better with schools so young women start to explore what is on offer, such as positions in design, architecture, project management and technology, as well as groundwork and building.

The army revamped its messaging, enhanced recruitment processes, celebrated diversity and sought buy-in in its ranks. It found that attracting more women broadens the range and number of potential recruits to draw from, deepening the pool of talent. And this is precisely what the construction sector needs if it wants to future proof itself.

Steve Hammond is a former warrant officer, now training manager for Anderson.

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