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Women are changing the construction industry

Women's International Day

It's no secret that the construction sector is a 'men's world'. Despite some efforts in recruiting women, the industry is still one of the most gender-segregated verticals in the world. Statistics reveal just how unbalanced the gender ratio is in this sector. In Europe, women comprise only 9% of all construction workers (Source: national statistical offices in Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Portugal). 

Women builders are a rare sight. There are multiple reasons behind that, from minor obstacles, like inadequate construction protection equipment, to deeply rooted social norms that keep women away from the industry. As a result, they lack support and acceptance in predominantly male teams. For the same social reasons, women avoid physically more demanding jobs, traditionally seen as unsuitable.
However, like the rest of the business world, the construction sector is slowly changing its traditional ways, and more women are entering the industry.

Why should women join the construction sector?
Here are just four reasons why now is the best time for women to build their careers in the construction sector:
1. As construction projects stabilise again, labour demand is rising. As a result, new opportunities open up for both men and women. In addition, due to a chronic shortage of workers and various skills, today's women have more options.
2. Women don't have to be installers, roofers, builders, or electricians to join the industry. There are many other jobs like contract or project managers, designers, or product engineers, and an array of professions in the office.  
3. There is a modest but noticeable number of female leaders in the construction industry. These trailblazers are breaking barriers, and women interested in executive or manager positions don't necessarily have to be 'the only ones.'
4. The construction sector offers competitive salaries. The gender pay gap is much smaller than in other industries.

Finding allies among men
Diversity, equity and inclusion are becoming big topics across the business landscape, and the construction world is no exception. However, to create true women-friendly working environments in this industry, women need support and allyship from their male colleagues. 
We sat down with one such male executive, who openly supports women in leading and other positions across the industry, Jacek A. Dobrowolski, Sales and Marketing Vice President at Uponor Eastern Europe.
Q: Have you noticed any changing trends in the number of women in this industry vertical?
A: Women have been traditionally underrepresented in this sector, starting at the civil engineering university. However, things have begun to change over the last decade, with more and more women entering the business and even this industry. 
While women still stay away from hard physical labour, such as building, plumbing, or HVAC equipment installing, their presence is increasing across various office jobs and positions that require 'an aesthetic eye'.
The role of the installation designer is one example where the number of women is on the rise. In fact, here in Uponor Poland, we have Project Design Services that serve our subsidiaries worldwide. It employs around 70 designers and engineers, of which more than half are women.

Q: That's great to hear. What about leadership and executive or managerial roles - do you hire women?
A: Of course, we do. I'm proud that Uponor Poland hired two strong female leaders: Anna Cupriak as the Unit Manager at Uponor Poland (my successor) and Ewa Krzemińska, Managing Director at Uponor Infra. We have only these two women in executive positions as Unit Managers, but we hope the trend will spread into other countries of the East European region. 
Q: Did they get those roles because someone decided you should have more women in the boardroom?
A: Actually no. These women were not hired because of their gender. Our female executives won these positions over their male colleagues because they were the best candidates. They had the most impressive experience, results, and skills that we were looking for. We made excellent decisions because they are both doing a fantastic job.
Q: Have your customers accepted your female executives? 
A: I was a bit worried about that in the beginning. Our customers have only worked with men for decades, so some were initially surprised. But soon after, we saw that we had no reason for concern. Our customers reacted positively and embraced our female executives, especially after demonstrating knowledge and leadership. 
Q: Has this change in the male-female employee ratio affected the business as usual? 
A: It did. Women brought a different style and sensibility into the business, and they left their mark, particularly inside organisations. Their leadership style can create a better work atmosphere, and they know how to create a more inclusive company culture. 
That's not to say they cannot be tough. The stereotype is that women are too emotional to be successful managers, but I don’t think that’s true. Women can be very tough when the situation requires a firm hand. The same is true about achieving KPIs and results – they are equally good at that, just as men are. But overall, I'd say they have more sensitivity towards their team members when compared to men in those same positions. 
In our company, I observe a team with a female leader having more tolerant and politically correct conversations. I noticed some men, who usually had a robust conversational style, starting to change how they behaved and talked to others.
Q: Let's take a step back and look at the overall business transformation we are witnessing. Do you think women are among the main drivers of those changes?
A: Yes, the business is rapidly changing. But I wouldn't say that women drive these changes directly. The expectations of all employees have changed, and they respond to that better.
Years ago, people were happy to get a job and earn their salaries. Today, a job is not enough. They want competitive pay, an excellent working atmosphere, an attractive social environment, and a positive company culture.  
And because women are more successful in creating this atmosphere, they indirectly drive these changes.
Q: What would you advise women considering applying for different positions in the construction sector – from executive levels, engineering jobs, to administrative roles? Is there a place for women in the building and engineering world?
A: There certainly is. Women can find a satisfying career in this sector. There are no disadvantages for them, at least not here at Uponor. 
For example, one of the main topics today is the gender pay gap, with many unfortunate examples across industries. But not here at Uponor. We pay men and women in the same position equally.
Management roles are open for those women willing to take on the challenges that come with that job. That typically means more travelling, long hours, and staying away from the family, which is difficult to accept for most working mothers. 
However, we support our working mums in executive roles as much as possible by offering work-from-home options.
Regarding the other construction and HVAC sector roles, we already spoke about how women are not interested in positions that include hard physical labour. It's not that we wouldn't hire them; it's just not what they typically look for. 
Women have plenty of options in this industry: from customer service, marketing, sales, HR, finances, logistics, design, to product engineering, and more. 
Women are welcome to join the construction and HVAC sector. And here at Uponor, we greet them with open hands - as our employees, partners, and customers.