Several women’s networking and empowerment groups have been established across the male dominated technical trade industries, each with a focus on their specific industry.
Kutlwano Rasodi, a Project Manager for construction solutions company Profica and a member of the Women’s Property Network, gives her insight into these gender-based groups and why they are necessary in trade industries.
“These groups were initially started by women in their respective industries who felt alienated and excluded from the activities in their sector,” says Rasodi. “Today, these groups have grown to become a bonding network of career-focused women that share advice, inspire and mentor young women to be successful in the trade industries.”
Rasodi is a member of the Women’s Property Network because she was prompted by Profica Director Tim White. White, in his quest to build a diverse staff compliment, wanted Kutlwano to enjoy the support and benefits of being part of a women’s network to help her face the challenges of working in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Profica has a silver membership with the Women’s Property Network, encouraging female staff to network with other women in the industry, gain advice and overcome the barriers they experience.
“The issues we face are not unique to the construction industry, you will see the same thing in the finance and engineering sector, in fact any sector in which women are underrepresented. There is a real need to connect and deal with issues as a collective. Female networking groups are an effective platform for this and I would encourage companies to highlight these platforms for their staff,” says Rasodi.
The construction industry has seen significant growth in terms of female representation, especially in the sustainability sector and property management. In the last few years the sector has seen several women appointed as the CEOs of property companies, as well as the key appointment of the third female president of the South African Property Owners’ Association (SAPOA).
Recent research in the construction sector shows complex reasons for the low numbers of women in construction across the world. Women are less likely to put themselves up for promotion and there are fewer role models for them to follow. The retention and career progression of women can be encumbered by open and hidden discrimination, poor networking opportunities and cultures of long hours. There is unconscious bias and stereotypes about core construction jobs not being suitable for women, a highly masculinised work culture, and many informal work practices which can undermine formal policies to address the problem.
“While the numbers are increasing, I do think that women who enter the construction industry soon experience disappointment and relative disadvantage due to continuing pay differentials and less development and promotional opportunities than their male colleagues,” says Rasodi.
According to Rasodi, the entrenched ideas of how things should work in an industry are slow to change. Rasodi says, “There needs to be an acknowledgement of the barriers that face women today and an understanding of the business benefits of diversity in traditionally male-dominated industries. There is also a large body of research going back many years which shows that more diverse workforces which embrace a broader range of views, opinions and ways of thinking are more productive and innovative. I believe in diversity: the more diverse an industry is, the more conducive is it for creativity and innovation. These are two things that the construction industry will benefit from enormously.”
Rasodi says that construction is missing out on a huge untapped source of potential talent by marginalising and disadvantaging potential female employees. But she does believe that awareness of this significant problem within the local and global construction industry is growing. “What you realise from participating in women’s networks is that talented women in our industry are becoming more confident, and supportive men are working alongside them to trigger change and create an environment where women can help the South African construction industry to become more innovative in an increasingly competitive world.”