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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Emergence of Women in the Indian Construction Industry

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When you think of any male-dominated industry, the construction industry is one of the first careers that come to your mind. Of all the people who work in construction, women only make up a small percentage of the workforce. This figure was even lower when I joined the construction industry 19 years ago. Now, in 2021 things are immensely different, we see more women thriving in the construction industry compared to the last few decades.

Construction is one of the largest industries in India and it contributes significantly to the overall GDP. It’s an industry that gives jobs to both the skilled and unskilled alike. According to a recent report, Women take up over 8-10% of the construction industry workforce in India, out of that majority are in the labour segment. There is, however, a larger scarcity of women in the technical and managerial roles, particularly civil engineers, MEP, structural engineers, electrical engineers, maintenance and supervisorial staff, as just 1.4 per cent of women are engaged in such technical roles within the industry and even lesser employ themselves in the construction industry.

Such a disparity is a result of the gender bias that exists within the Indian society about women working on-site. To put it in numbers, the ratio of male to female students in Civil Engineering courses is normally 4:1 and even from this limited number of female students, only 20 percent of women join the construction sector while the rest move on to the other sectors.

As an employer, it has been a constant challenge to hire women in such a male oriented field of work for various reasons. But the reason that stands out and affects me the most is that not many women look at construction as a career option. I have seen many women who after completing their engineering courses join as lecturers in universities. It’s important to point out that more than within the industry, this stigma is due to environmental and societal pressures that make this disparity and leads to discrimination against women. It pains me to say that it’s an unfair result of past precedence and preconceived notions. Unfortunately, construction has always been a male-dominated and ruled sector not only in India but even for the rest of the world. You will find very few women on sites or working in construction companies.

The initial scars which women experience is especially on the day they have to choose which brand of engineering to specialize in. “The construction industry is not meant for women,” they are told. “What will you do at the site?” “Do you think it’s safe?” are some of the questions constantly thrown at young women who choose this career path. I have experienced these questions too.

For women to safely and confidently enter the male-dominated field of construction, they can seek the increasing number of resources available to them that addresses their specific needs in the industry.

Read: Government gave gifts to startups, women entrepreneurs and micro industry, getting new BIS license cheaper

There is still much work to be done to fully include women in construction. To increase recruitment and improve retention of women in the sector, companies must acknowledge the gender bias and work hard to remove such a gap of gender bias from their corporate culture. Companies need to develop training programs and local mentorship groups specific to the needs of women. The inclusion of female staff in the hiring process can make the trainees more comfortable. A positive work environment and the need to encourage women to become role models for other women can form a positive chain reaction for self-realisation and fulfilment for the other female staff. Schools and educational programs need to highlight the value of construction jobs for women and young girls so that they can see the industry as a viable career path.

The construction worker shortage has presented an opportunity for more women to be hired while also fixing the issue. However, it needs to be acknowledged that there is a skill gap when it comes to women working in construction, but there are ways to get around this as experience brings skill over time.

With more and more ground-breaking women pushing at gendered norms and levelling the playing field, the industry is taking bigger steps at becoming a more diverse and viable field for a new generation of construction workers.

Note – The article is contributed by Sheetal Bhilkar, founder of Urja Building Services Consultants Pvt Ltd (UBSC) & founder of The Real Woman Awards

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