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Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Tuesday, 26 October 2010 15:17 UK
Macho culture 'putting off women' in construction
Samantha Paul
Apprentice Samantha Paul working on the London 2012 Media centre

By Sarah Halls
BBC London

Macho culture and a lack of flexibility are deterring women from entering the construction industry, it has been claimed.

Despite schemes to increase the numbers of women on building sites on major London projectsfew are taking up the opportunities.

Michael Massiah, at Astins Institute, said the environment was "too male."

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) set up Women into Construction, which has so far employed 200 women.

A number of apprenticeships and Olympic Games' initiatives targeting women have been introduced to drive up numbers.

Saphina Sharif, an Olympic Park project manager, said young women needed to be convinced the sector was no longer a 'job-for-the-boys'."

In the construction industry there has been no overall change in the number of women in employment since 1990, according to Labour Research data from 2009, an independent trade union research organisation.

'Inflexible industry'

The construction industry has not come very far in 35 years. Less than 1% in manual trade roles are women.
Niki Luscombe, chief executive of Women and Manual Trades

In 2009 Astins Institute, a construction training college, launched a £1m facility in Battersea aimed at encouraging women to join the industry.

A year later, of the six that started the initial programme only two remain. Four dropped out for personal reasons.

The institute has managed to recruit three more women into its mixed gender course which started in January.

Astins training manager Mr Massiah is disappointed and blames a lack of flexibility in the industry for not attracting and retaining women.

"The structure, interaction and language is very male orientated, the environment is very macho.

"You still have to get to the site at 7.45am and don't get home till 7.30pm. I'm not surprised people jack.

"So what we've recently introduced is flexible working. [One of our women] works four days a week because she has a four-year-old daughter and her childcare situation has changed radically," said Mr Massiah.

A woman's touch

Four women trainees are based at the Olympic Park Media Centre in Stratford, having previously worked on regenerating the Savoy Hotel and building a school in north-west London.

Saphina Sharif, Olympic Park project manager
Saphina Sharif, Olympic Park project manager

Naomi Blake, 24, works on dry lining the internal walls of the Media Centre and building a shaft wall for a lift under the supervision of her mentor, Keith Hough.

She said: "I was very interested in carpentry and was always watching the DIY shows and property programmes and wanted to take my career down that avenue.

"My male colleagues became very protective of me and were very excited to have a female to pass their knowledge onto."

Laura Smith, 17, is the only female apprentice at Wyse Power, a construction group that is based at the Olympic Park.

"I've never been pressurised into doing something I'm not able to do but they also do not discriminate against me because I'm a woman," said Ms Smith, who is also studying for an NVQ Level 2 in electrical installation at Hackney Community College.

According to Ruth Lomax, the college's marketing manager, 54 women are on their construction courses and the college is making "proactive efforts to increase the percentage through Women into Construction events".

Niki Luscombe, chief executive of Women and Manual Trades which represents 650 tradeswomen, has received positive feedback from employers about incorporating a female workforce.

"We found the employers that took them [women] on had absolutely no women in their workforce. Employers report that there is a change in behaviour and attitudes for the better. It's difficult to pinpoint what it means, but I guess there is less testosterone-fuelled behaviour.

Slow process

"The construction industry has not come very far in 35 years. Less than 1% in manual trade roles are women.

"Less than 2% of apprentices are women. Some report up to 12% women in the industry but what they count is admin roles, and engineering roles, which include project management [and] cleaning staff," said Ms Luscombe.

Alison Nimmo, director of Design and Regeneration at the Olympic Delivery Authority, said more and more women were starting to come through in management which was "encouraging".

"But when it comes to women working in trades on site it's a painfully slow process.

"Using the inspiration of the London 2012 project we're attracting and training more women and they are already making an impact - in jobs ranging from plumbers, engineers and electricians to site managers."



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