International Women's Day - We must encourage more women to succeed in the construction industry

08 March, 2018

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This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘press for progress’ which for Natalie Clemson, Associate Civil Engineer, is all about supporting women in their career progression and helping them smash that proverbial glass ceiling. As part of International Women’s Day, she discusses her experience and what more is being done to encourage more females into the construction industry.

I think one of the main issues facing women, not just in the construction industry but across the board, is the lack of female representation in senior management, which has led to a lack of understanding within companies when it comes to employing women. Companies who consistently employ men over women and have a small female workforce need to question why this is the case and establish whether unconscious bias is present.

In 2016, there were 18.9 million families in the UK. Having children is a natural part of life, yet it often feels like firms are in the dark ages when it comes to dealing with working mothers. Recent findings from a poll undertaken for the Equality and Human Rights Commission demonstrated that 1/3 of employers believe that new mothers in work are generally less interested in career progression, and 2/5 believe that women who have had more than one child whilst in the same job can be a “burden” to their team.

These beliefs need to change, and although the first major problem to solve is how we encourage more females into the construction industry in the first place, the second stumbling block is retaining that talent so they go on to be the next Senior Managers.

Employers need to realise that new mothers coming back to work aren’t any less committed. I actually feel more motivated and determined than ever before! And, it is safe to say that my colleagues and the Pick Everard Directors and Partners are glad to have me back after having my second child last May.

It’s difficult because we not only need to change the mind sets of employers, but encourage new mothers to believe in themselves and be that positive role model for their children. The lack of confidence returning to work is a significant issue, but so often the skills we learn as parents are totally undervalued. I know my organisational skills have improved tenfold since having children – the military operation to leave the house in the morning proves that. And I am definitely more productive – gone are the days where I can procrastinate at my desk into the evening. I now have to be super-efficient in the day so I can leave at 5.30pm to spend that valuable time with my children.

Women aren’t actively encouraged to return to work after their maternity leave and the industry is losing a lot of talent as a result. But at Pick Everard, we’re doing something about it.

After I came back to work in 2014 having had my first child, I met with Pick Everards’s Managing Partner and HR Director and we devised a strategy to encourage women back to work after maternity leave and stop our talented professionals dropping out of employment. We now offer a £1,000 bonus to mothers returning to the firm which I think has really helped, and shown women that they are valued and that they don’t have to stop work to raise a family – they can do both.

I have also put together a booklet educating line managers on the steps to take when an employee informs them that they’re pregnant. This highlights what maternity benefits women are entitled to, and outlines aspects such as ‘Keep in Touch’ days and our flexible working policy.

I am also in the early stages of setting up a mentoring scheme for women by women, to raise their confidence levels and foster their beliefs in themselves and their capabilities. I believe that this is vitally important because the effects will be perpetual – the first generation of Pick Everard Directors will influence the second, and so on, until true gender parity is achieved. That is the aim anyway!

International Women’s Day is so important for empowering women in the workplace, making them realise that they are worthy of that promotion. Only through better representation are we going to see a real difference made by females in the industry and I hope that, through encouraging working mothers to succeed, this will start to happen and we can make a really positive impact for the next generation.

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