By Shevira Bissessor
Traditionally, when we think of construction, we often think of men in yellow hard hats.
The idea of a female electrician, plumber, supervisor or development manager on a building site is not necessarily the norm. Let’s take a look at Rosslyn Grove, in Nairobi, where the development project is being spearheaded by a strong female team, which suggests that the diversification of women in traditionally male roles leads to greater business success.
The Construction sector has progressed in its gender diversification, but it still has a long way to go. A recent study by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics shows that women only represent 10.9% of all the people working in construction.
This number shrinks to 1 in every 100 employees in front line positions. With the US Department of Labour estimating that women comprise 47% of the country’s workers, this means the US construction sector benefits from only 1.25% of women in the workforce.
Globally, the figure doesn’t look great either, although there has been improvement, albeit slow.
According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (“RICS”) female representation as surveyors only account for an 8% increase in the last decade. In Africa, RICS has found that 15% of its professionals are female with a 6% increase in qualified female surveyors in 2019. Research by Randstad, a Dutch Human Resource Consulting Firm, shows that women in construction management roles increased by 9% in the UK between 2018 and 2020.
Unconscious gender bias, limited training opportunities and negative perceptions of women in construction all contribute to the gender gap. Yet, in its May 2020 report, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters” McKinsey & Co found that the most gender-diverse companies are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies with less diversity.
McKinsey further found that the greater the representation of women, the higher the likelihood of outperformance. Companies with more than 30 per cent of women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10% to 30%, and in turn, these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives or none at all.
As a female business leader and working with senior female managers in the sector, I have noticed a definite difference in how great female leaders manage various personality types vs. some of our male counterparts.
A key reason for this difference in approach, I believe, is that women continue to be the nucleus of the household, regardless of their professional positions. As such, these women not only become adept at juggling various priorities and roles but also at engaging with individuals differently, bringing out the best in them whilst achieving the same end goal.
This skill set is most notable in the construction environment where projects and deadlines often require mentoring and transformational leadership as opposed to an autocratic approach.
Despite the evidence of greater profitability through gender diversity, Dutch HR firm Randstad found that women executives are more likely to occupy staff roles, at 14%, than line management roles, at 7%, compared to males, where 33% are employed as staff executives and 46% as line executives.
In this context, the teams responsible for the development of Rosslyn Grove in Nairobi, Kenya is a strong outlier to the norm. The 16 038 m2 Rosslyn Grove is a 90-unit diplomatic apartment and townhome community development by Gateway Real Estate Africa (GREA) and Verdant Ventures on behalf of the United States’ Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. Gateway’s team of professionals and sub-contractors comprise 68 women on site, with 26 individuals skilled or semi-skilled and the balance is temporary workers.
These women are responsible for professional and technical services across the construction scope, ranging from Development Management, Project Managers, Engineers and Quantity Surveyors to EHS Supervisors, plumbers, storekeepers, electricians and painters.
The development of Rosslyn Grove highlights better profitability through gender diversity, with the project nearing completion on time and within budget despite Covid-19 related supply chain challenges during construction.
In addition to having a female team driving the project, GREA and Verdant support the efforts of Buildher Kenya with funding and on-site training opportunities to improve skills development and empowerment of women in construction.
Buildher Kenya is a non-profit operation founded in 2018 to equip disadvantaged women in Kenya with accredited construction skills and is the only female focused organization registered to sit for the prestigious National Industrial Training Authority exams.
Women in gender driven roles have a long way to go. In the construction sector, gender bias still remains, however the workplace culture and environment will continue to grow and adapt as women take on leadership roles.
The female team at GREA and initiatives of Buildher Kenya demonstrate that if the corporation’s will and commitment exists in empowering and employing women, training programmes and mentorships catering specifically to women’s needs can go a long way in attracting female talent to the sector.
Shevira Bissessor is the Chief Operating Officer, Gateway Real Estate Africa.