Women make up just 2% of on site roles in the construction industry. @NAWIC_NE via Instagram

The manual labour sector is notorious for lacking female workers, who comprise less than two per cent of the hands-on industry worldwide.

While women account for 47 per cent of all employed persons globally, according to a 2023 report published by the Bureau of Labour Statistics, women in manual roles make up just 1.25 per cent of the workforce.

The National Online Manpower Information Service report also confirms that, as of last year, less than five per cent of international on-the-ground workers executing manual labour positions, which includes careers in electrics, plumbing, carpentry, engineering and bricklaying, were women.

In the construction industry, figures also show that women represent less than 11 per cent of the global workforce. However, just 3 per cent of the female workers have been employed in front-line construction jobs, the Institute for Women's Policy Research reported.

In the UK, according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), female workers make up just 14.7 per cent of the construction sector.

Although the number of women working in the manual industry remains low, the recent figures highlight how gender inclusivity in the construction industry has improved by almost 40 per cent in the past ten years.

Organisations like Women into Construction and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) have paved the way to reduce the stereotypes attached to manual trade workers.

NAWIC is a US-based non-profit organisation that promotes gender diversity in the construction industry and works, supports and celebrates women working in manual roles around the globe.

Speaking to International Business Times UK, Connie Leipard, the London Regional Chair of NAWIC, said that she has heard first-hand accounts of harassment and discrimination from women in the construction industry.

Why do you think it is essential for women to represent more of the construction industry?

Connie: "Quite simply, diverse teams make for better projects and more profitable businesses. The construction industry is responsible for shaping our world, so we need the industry to represent the communities it is building for. A lack of diversity leads to less innovation."

What kinds of harassment have women in construction been victims of?

Connie: "Most women in this industry will have stories to tell, ranging from everyday sexism to the outright shocking examples of harassment and discrimination. Everyday struggles such as not having the correct PPE or limited access to site toilets are common."

"Extreme examples are rarer, but we are regularly approached at NAWIC for advice on issues such as workplace bullying, women being passed over for promotion or made redundant after having children."

Why do you think that women are faced with discrimination after becoming employed in the construction industry?

Connie: "At the top level, the industry is still made up predominantly of white males. This means that even with the best intentions, unconscious bias and old-fashioned work cultures still exist. Then the gender pay gap is higher in this industry."

"Working hours are long and often unsociable, making it difficult to have a career whilst having a family or caring responsibilities."

Do you think women are reluctant to work in construction?

Connie: "It is hard to be what you can't see. In my anecdotal experience, most of the women in the industry ended up here by accident, after a career change, or fell into a role. Very few set out from a young age to join the industry, and those that do tend to have family members here already to push them in this direction."

"There is a tendency in careers guidance to assume the industry is just muddy boots and on the tools roles, which doesn't come close to covering the full scale of career opportunities available."

How do women benefit the construction industry?

Connie: "Diversity leads to better project outcomes. The women I work alongside are passionate and driven; they all go above and beyond – partly because, as minorities in the industry, they need to work harder than men in similar roles to receive the same praise, promotions and success."

What advice/encouragement would you give to women wanted to work in manual labour positions?

Connie: "Despite women making up 15% of the industry, only 2% are in site-based roles. Some fantastic organisations, like Women into Construction, are working to change this."

"Many organisations are taking proactive steps to address the gender balance. I would say reach out to one of these organisations in your area; they exist to encourage women to join the industry and will be able to give you some honest, helpful advice on how to start and introduce you to others in the industry who can help."

Connie Leipard is the 62nd president of NAWIC London.

Women into construction is an independent non-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in construction. The non-profit organisation aims to reduce the "skills gap" and to create a gender-equal workforce.

Women in construction also assist contractors and recruitment services by recommending motivated and skilled women for construction roles.

Women in construction have provided construction training to over 1,200 women.

Despite the number of women emerging into the manual labour sector, the construction industry is still plagued with sexism. According to a study conducted by researchers at the UK-based Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, approximately 30 per cent of female labour workers said that they hesitated to enter the construction sphere due to the threat of gender discrimination.

Charlotte Burrows, the chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that investigates complaints of job discrimination, said that she has heard "egregious" accounts of abuse against female construction workers.

In multiple cases, Burrows said job applicants were told that companies they had applied to would not hire women.

A recent report published by the EEOC revealed that female workers employed in the construction industry are victims of sexual and emotional harassment, as well as other workplace abuses.

According to the EEOC research, which surveyed more than 2,600 tradeswomen, roughly one in four of the hands-on women workers reported experiencing near-constant sexual harassment.

Female construction workers being faced with sexual harassment has plagued the sector for years. In 2021, after surveying female labour workers, the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that 26.5 per cent of respondents said they were "always or frequently" harassed for being a woman.

Regarding the incidents of sexual harassment, women reported being groped, the typical target of sexual innuendos and the subject of comments and workplace graffiti that sexualised them.

Female construction workers are often denied anti-discrimination policies and training that advises them on where to report the violations, the report added.

The construction industry faces a staffing crisis, with statistics from the Associated General Contractors of America exposing how 89 per cent of construction contractors struggled to find workers last year.

And yet, "this is an industry where we still have folks saying, 'We just don't hire women,'" the chair of the EEOC added.

The UK's construction and trades industry needs 937,000 recruits over the next decade, the UK Trade Skills Index 2023 said. The report noted that Scotland is asking for 31,000 new construction workers - including 244,000 qualified apprentices.