Why Bob the Builder is keeping women out of construction

Why Bob the Builder is keeping women out of construction

While just over one in 10 of the UK construction workforce is female, women make up only one per cent of the manual trades. Indeed, the Office for National Statistics has noted that the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low as to be unmeasurable.

The perception is that construction remains a male domain, a perception reinforced by signs that read Danger: Men at Work, not Danger: People at Work.

Such not-so-subliminal messages tell women that this environment is not for them. Yet 11 per cent of the construction workforce is female, which is testament to their tenacity and determination to be part of a sector that is one of the key drivers of our economy.
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Perhaps it's not just the industry that's at fault. Bob the Builder undoubtedly inspired thousands of children in their choice of career when they grew up – if they were boys. For the girls, the programme's role model was Wendy, ostensibly the token woman who runs the office and keeps the business in order. While this is an essential role in the industry, it fails to challenge the stereotype.

Even the anthropomorphic construction vehicles, with names such as Scoop, Muck, Roley and Travis, have male characteristics and are fueled by testosterone. There is, however, one female construction vehicle, Dizzy, an orange concrete mixer who is eager, curious and easily excitable. Charming.

This is why Lego's Research Institute, its new science-themed set featuring female scientists, has received so much acclaim. The set, which is being rolled out in August, was proposed to the Danish toy manufacturer by Dr. Ellen Koolijman, a Stockholm-based geochemist, and features an astronomer, a chemist and a paleontologist. Other suggested designs include a female construction worker, a fire fighter, a mechanic, a robotics engineer and a geologist.

Last month a survey found a "disturbing disconnect" between parents' traditional careers advice to their children and the needs of today's jobs market. Many parents' perceptions of jobs and careers have not changed since their schooldays even though some sectors have evolved and bear little or no resemblance to 25 years ago or did not even exist then.

Schools must provide up-to-date careers advice and guidance, broadening pupils' career horizons by teaming up with industry and inviting sector representatives to speak to their pupils and outline a range of education or training options, including apprenticeships and other vocational pathways.

Future success for the construction industry relies on good teamwork and great employees - whether they're male or female.

Kate Lloyd is the fairness, inclusion and respect manager at the Construction
Industry Training Board

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