Language, images and networks: combating the sexist prejudices of our sector in the recruitment of seniors

The latest webinar in our Inspiring Women in Construction series examines the barriers encountered in recruiting for the industry’s top positions

You have to start with recruitment.

The industry has a well-known gender problem with the number of women in leadership positions being very low and not improving rapidly.

Clare Francis by Willmott Dixon:

Filling senior managerial vacancies within a company’s existing ranks or through established networks is a widespread practice that actively prevents the situation from changing.

This is the view expressed by a panel during a CN webinar Inspiring Women in Construction. Experts point out how the language of traditional recruiting approaches – and the marketing imagery used by entrepreneurs – can be a barrier to progress.

Informal networking

Recruitment from within a company’s structure or through personal networks is preventing more women from accessing leadership positions in the construction industry, says Clare Francis, head of recruitment and apprenticeship operations at Willmott Dixon.

The familiar approach might help fill a role, but it won’t help the representation of women in the industry, she believes.

“I think this might be seen as a disadvantage for some women [because] there aren’t that many women in leadership positions in the industry right now, ”she says.

Sarah Draper from RLB:

Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB), Head of People and Culture, Sarah Draper, agrees. “The challenge is that recruiting tends to be informal at a higher level, so not through a recruiting portal.

“For higher roles, [firms] tend to use headhunters, who tend to have more masculine networks if they’ve been in the industry for a long time, ”she adds. “So we really challenge them to provide us with that diversity. “

But sexism can also arise elsewhere in the selection process.

A study by Aecom on the wording of recruitment advertisements found that senior jobs use words perceived as more masculine than those in more junior positions. This means “that there is a potential for unconscious drift in decision-making,” according to Richard Whitehead, managing director of the building and premises consultancy.

“We have found that, as top positions are advertised, terms associated with male behavior, including leadership, courage, courage and resilience, are much more common,” he says, adding that the research has found that this can discourage women from applying for senior positions. The company has changed its application process accordingly.

The barrier to flexibility

Francis de Willmott Dixon suggests that some women may be reluctant to run for managerial positions because they fear compromising their access to flexible work – non-traditional schedules or workplaces that meet an individual’s needs. . Women who have flexibility plans in place work in a way that works for them, and some fear that they will not be able to benefit from similar arrangements in their new role.

Richard Whitehead from Aecom:

“If someone takes a career break, it can put enormous doubt in your head about the security of your position in the industry,” Francis said. “What’s also important is that you don’t be afraid to ask for flexible work when you come back from maternity leave, and I actually think more companies are better at offering flexible work, after showing that many people can work from home over the past year. ”

Draper agrees: “One thing we did [at RLB] is to introduce flexible working from day one. For some women, a barrier is that they have a suitable employment contract, so they feel that they cannot apply for the next step as they might not get the same arrangement over the years. first six months of the new job. “

Positive impressions

Experts also say that recruiting women into the sector is made more difficult if they do not feel represented on their interview panels, or even on the company’s websites. Simple photos of women working for the company can increase the likelihood that they will want to enter or advance further in the industry.

Jayne Little from Skills 4:

Jayne Little, managing director of diversity consultancy Skills 4, says business websites are important because they are “the first place people go” to search for a business. “If we think of a career in the construction industry as a train trip, if I want to be on that train for 30 or 40 years, I want to make sure I fit in,” she says. “Unfortunately, we just aren’t showcasing our existing female talents at the moment. Young women, when they look at the construction industry, need to feel represented, they need to see someone who looks like them on the breast. Of the industry.

Francis de Willmott Dixon also calls for interviews with seniors to be fairer by putting more women on selection boards.

Inspiring Women panelists also agree that the construction industry places a lot of emphasis on technical skills when recruiting for managerial positions, but technical skills are often less important than business or financial skills in managerial positions. direction.

“If we want to change the number of women in construction, we will have to look outside the sector and develop our own talents,” concludes Francis.

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