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Breaking Barriers: The Changing Role of Women in the Construction Industry

The construction industry has long been characterized as a male-dominated field, with women historically underrepresented in all aspects of this sector. However, in recent years, significant progress has been made in breaking down gender barriers and increasing the presence of women in construction. This shift has had a profound effect on the industry, leading to greater diversity, improved productivity, and a more inclusive work environment.

Saint-Gobain, the global industry leader in light and sustainable construction, is leading the charge in empowering women in construction. Through their programmes and dynamic approach, they are demonstrating to the world that women in construction should be an industry norm!

Traditionally, the construction industry has been seen as physically demanding and suited primarily for men. However, this stereotype has been gradually challenged as more women have entered the field. Women are demonstrating that they can excel in various roles within construction, from project management and architecture to engineering and skilled trades.

By breaking these stereotypes, women are encouraging younger generations to explore construction careers without being limited by outdated gender norms. The inclusion of women in the construction industry has brought about a more diverse and dynamic workforce. A diverse workforce brings different perspectives, ideas, and problem-solving skills to the table. This diversity can lead to enhanced creativity and innovation, which is crucial in an industry that constantly seeks more efficient and sustainable building practices.

Noxolo Hlope, Trade Marketing Manager at Saint-Gobain, never initially dreamt of working in the construction industry, but her love of sales and marketing has paved the way for her growing career in the company. “After completing my BCOM Marketing Management Honors degree at the University of Johannesburg, I started working at Saint-Gobain in 2022 as the Trade Marketing Manager and am now National Key Account Manager for several accounts within the company,” explains Hlope. “I am so fortunate to work with a passionate team, who truly love what they do and are eager to help impart knowledge and details that make my job so much more enjoyable and fulfilling. We are changing the way people think about women in construction by placing women in roles previously dominated by men!”

The integration of women into the construction workforce has also led to improved workplace culture. The industry has historically been known for its rugged, often toxic, work environments. The introduction of women into these spaces has encouraged a more respectful and inclusive atmosphere. With greater gender diversity, construction companies are more likely to foster a culture of respect and equality, which benefits all employees.

Sales Representative at Saint-Gobain, Christie Oosthuizen, believes that to be successful, especially within this industry, you need to be your own best advocate. “I started working at Saint-Gobain 17 years ago and quickly realised that women were seem often seen as real amateurs within this industry. I had to really believe in myself and be as confident as I could in front of my clients ,” says Oosthuizen. “I have become really passionate about learning and equipping myself with knowledge so that I can hold my own in industry conversations and let me clients know that I am able to help them with what they need!”

The construction industry is currently facing a significant skills shortage, which has been exacerbated by an aging workforce. The inclusion of women in the industry is one way to help bridge this gap. Encouraging more women to pursue careers in construction not only provides a new pool of talent but also addresses the demographic challenges the industry is currently facing.

With an education in Chemical Engineering, Busisiwe Mphotwana, Production Superintendent at Saint-Gobain, has found her journey in the construction industry both challenging and rewarding. “I have encountered challenges which has forced me to prove myself more than my male counterparts. I was also exposed to work environments that were less inclusive, and I had to navigate these situations by clearly communicating my ideas, concerns, and expectations. Despite these challenges I’ve learned to be resilient, and I am proud to break down barriers for future generations of women in this field. I have also had the opportunity to contribute my skills to various projects, this has awarded me the opportunity to grow my career and reach my goals.”

The construction industry plays a vital role in the global economy. As women take on more prominent roles in this sector, they are contributing significantly to its growth. By increasing the workforce’s size and diversifying it, women have a direct impact on the industry’s overall economic output. This growth also extends to women-owned construction businesses, which are thriving in various parts of the world.

Saint-Gobain Warehouse Manager, Anna Motsai, grew up working with her father who owned a scrap yard business, which fostered her love of building and engineering. After completing her studies in Metallurgical Engineering and working in laboratories, Anna made the move to the construction industry when she joined Saint-Gobain in 2017. “My journey in the construction industry been a bit like a roller coaster ride, one minute you feel confident, 100% in control and that you can take on the world and next minute it feels like the wheels are falling off fast. However, I have learnt to embrace this, and I am enjoying the journey. As a woman, you constantly have to prove yourself in order for the men to trust you and your decisions, but I have found that by getting involved and showing that I am passionate about what I do, you can go far!”

Safety is a paramount concern in construction, and women are making a valuable contribution to this aspect of the industry. Their inclusion has led to a more comprehensive approach to safety, with research suggesting that a more diverse workforce can result in fewer accidents and injuries. Women bring a strong focus on detail and communication skills, which can be instrumental in enhancing safety measures on construction sites.

The increased presence of women in the construction industry provides aspiring female professionals with role models and mentors. These mentors offer guidance and support, helping women navigate the complexities of the field. Additionally, they help instil confidence in the abilities of women to succeed in construction careers.

The changing role of women in the construction industry is a transformative development that brings numerous benefits. As women break stereotypes, promote diversity, improve workplace culture, close the skills gap, contribute to the economy, advance safety, and become role models, they play an integral part in shaping the industry’s future. The construction sector has evolved from a male-dominated field to a more inclusive and progressive environment, and this transformation is essential for the industry’s continued growth and success. By recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in construction, we can encourage even more progress and ensure that the industry remains a welcoming place for all.