Response to consultation on the recruitment and retention of women into construction

INSIGHT: Response to consultation on the recruitment and retention of women into construction
Home Insights Response to consultation on the recruitment and retention of women into construction

In April 2019, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence (APPG) in the Built Environment announced an Inquiry to examine how the recruitment and retention of more women into construction might help address the industrys skills needs, post-Brexit.

It called on organisations, businesses and individuals to submit evidence on how the recruitment and retention of more women could be achieved within the construction industry and the built environment professions; and how this may help the industry and the professions replace migrant skills, which may be lost after Brexit.

Witnesses were also asked what government could do to mitigate this impact and what the industry could be doing itself to increase the talent pool. The APPG requested evidence to identify and attract more women into the sector; and exemplars of initiatives and activities which have already succeeded in bringing more women (or keeping women) working in construction and the built environment professions.

Wates Group submitted the following written response to the Inquiry and was invited to present to a hearing of the APPG in July 2019, where we joined a cross-industry panel. The APPG is due to release its report and conclusions later this year.

All Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment

Response to consultation on the recruitment and retention of women into construction
Date of submission: May 2019

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Recruiting more women into built environment professions
  3. Retaining more women in built environment careers
  4. Replacing migrant skills following Brexit
  5. Recommendations
  6. List and links to Appendices

1. Executive Summary

We believe that our people are our greatest asset. However, with women accounting for only 14% of the total workforce in the construction industry, we recognise that the built environment is one of the least diverse industries and one which struggles to attract and retain women. At Wates, women account for 20% of the workforce, which is above the industry average, but way below our target of 40% by 2025. To achieve this target, our diversity and inclusion strategy focuses on:

We must all collectively do more to reflect the society and the communities we work in if we are to attract talent and retain people to help address the skills shortage our industry is facing. With 179,000 jobs to be created across the UK by 2021, it makes good business sense and, most importantly, its the right thing to do.

While we have made significant progress, we have much more to do, and over the next year will be increasing our efforts so we continue to be recognised as a great place to work by existing and potential employees.

Organisational Context

Established in 1897, Wates provides construction, development and property services across the UK employing nearly 4,000 people operating out of 34 static locations as well as numerous development sites. The Group is one of the leading family-owned companies in the sector with a turnover of £1.601bn operating profit (EBITDA) of £35.9m reported in 2018. As a family-owned business for over 122 years, Wates is committed to the long-term sustainability of the built environment, and to encouraging equality of opportunity for everyone, regardless of gender, faith or background. This is carried through to a belief that the industry should be more representative of the communities it serves, and that we, in turn, must play a part in promoting careers in the built environment for everyone and championing the role models we have in our own businesses.

This has seen the business recognised in the sector for its commitment to people, safety, community and excellence with recent awards including:

In our opinion this organisation is one of the most committed to the values of the Equality Diversity and Inclusion Act (EDI). This starts with the Wates family shareholders and is entrenched in the senior management team. We confirm they are managing EDI practices as a priorityThe Wates Group is an exemplary organisation, fully deserving of its Gold Status. The whole organisation should be congratulated for its stance on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and we look forward to assisting Wates Group in the genuine drive to continue to be at the leading edge of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion best practice.

Richard Gilbert, Managing Director, Equilibrium Network Limited

Members of the Wates Group leadership team take a leading role within the industry in pressing for progress against this agenda. We are members of sector-wide bodies such as Build UK, working with the government on diversity issues including Women in Construction, sector apprenticeships and challenging perceptions of careers in construction. In addition, our Chairman James Wates CBE, in line with his belief that good business, well done, is good for society, has taken on key roles outside of the construction sector, including Chairman of the Princes Trust Corporate Advisory Group and Ambassador for the Young Womens Trust both organisations which champion and promote life opportunities for young people and greater diversity and inclusion.

The Wates Group is currently recruiting for a Head of Diversity and Inclusion to advance and help embed our recently launched strategy and support in driving the agenda forward across the business.


2. Recruiting more women into built environment professions

Advertising to a wider talent pool

The Group reports on a quarterly basis on Appointments so business leaders are aware of progress on equality, diversity and inclusion. Every Early Careers recruitment assessment centre now includes at least one female assessor. In addition, all interview groups must be as diverse as possible to ensure that candidates dont feel out of place throughout the process.

All members of our in-house recruitment team have undertaken unconscious bias training. From June 2019 this will also be a requirement for all employees with interviewing responsibility as part of an online learning module around how to select and interview fairly. Application forms have been reviewed and updated to make them easier to complete removing one of the barriers to application.

Job advertisements and interview competency questions have been reviewed and updated to give greater focus to behaviours. This allows individuals with limited or no specific background in construction greater opportunity to enter the industry. Where possible, vacancies are advertised with a part time / agile working option. (See Case Study 1)

A wide range of channels are now targeted with job adverts including social media and VERCIDA Jobs (was Diversity Jobs) to encourage a wider talent pool to apply. The recruitment team promotes the wider Wates brand, culture and social value commitments through its job adverts to attract a more diverse set of individuals who may be looking to work for a values-driven company. Evidence suggests that many women and career starters search for jobs that offer this opportunity.

Our Early Careers marketing has been refreshed to reflect behaviour-based messaging and feature a more diverse representation of our workforce and the Early Careers team targets a broader mix of Higher Education providers and campus careers fairs than in previous years, particularly focusing on areas with a more diverse mix of candidates.

Female employees are actively encouraged to be brand ambassadors for Wates, through internal channels such as Yammer, or externally on our company website and our social media channels (Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook). This provides female role models for others in the industry while also offering first-hand insights into working in construction.

Case Study 1: Wates Residential Havering development management teamWates is working with the London Borough of Havering to regenerate the councils social housing stock. All job advertisements for the new development management team were issued with part time provision with the target of a 50/50 shortlist of female and male candidates for interview. As a result, we have bucked the industry trend with a five-strong, all-female development team on this £1bn joint venture project. This includes recent recruit, Baheeja Betts, a Development Manager given the opportunity to return to the sector for three days a week after taking a career break to have children. She later could increase to her working week to four days after her children had started school.

Demonstrating that construction is a career of choice, not of chance

The CIOB reported (Liz Waters) construction is not a career of choice among young people and that long-held perceptions of it being dirty, male orientated, unsafe and manual are still evident. The main barriers to women entering the industry were the perceived physical nature of the work, the social dynamic of working in a male-orientated environment and lack of availability of career paths. Wates has initiated programmes to address this poor image problem, and contribute to promoting a more diverse workforce, from primary school level, through to the long-term unemployed.

Presenting construction as more than just hard hats from primary age

It also provides participants with the skills they need to complete the industry standard Provisional Construction Skill Certification Scheme (CSCS) test. Since 2005:

Wates has given us the opportunity not many others have given us that foot in the door. Being a male dominated environment, it speaks volumes to the women on this course because we all have that determination. Wates has given us the opportunity to show we can be part of the industry. So many avenues and professionals assisting when you may have felt that chance isnt there anymore. A chance to direct our lives in an avenue to help build on Wates legacy.

Dione Jackson, student on the Camden course


3. Retaining more women in built environment careers

Support networks and role modelling

Wates encourages employees to establish their own interest groups and networks and one of the most vibrant and engaged cross-business group on the companys internal Yammer channel and external social media is the Women in Wates network. The network was established in 2018 with a Parliamentary reception for the Centenary of the Representation of the Peoples Act. It now comprises individuals at all levels of the business and from every region, from the Executive Committee to site and office staff. It has hosted safe spaces for engaging and lively forums led by female leaders from within the Group. This has empowered women across the business to speak up and share the challenges that they face, seek support and advice and to share their ideas and views on what needs to change going forward. (See Case Studies 2 & 3). These groups have helped to inform the Groups Diversity and Inclusion strategy.

Workshop-based Learn and Grow sessions around the country help provide support in growing career confidence with guest speakers and simple, practical tools that they can take away and implement. Moving further into 2019, the network will host a series of discussion circles, led by female leaders at Wates, to help equip attendees with the tools to continue developing into tomorrows leaders. Topics include effective networking, returning to work after maternity, how to get your voice heard, dealing with stereotypes and taking the next step up. All events have been well received and have allowed the network to collectively grow in scope and confidence within the business to help implement change from within.

Case Study 2: Lisa Cummings, Development managerI joined Wates recently and was pleasantly surprised to have joined a team of strong, inspiring women, all with different professional and cultural backgrounds. We all have our own areas of expertise which we share, therefore improving the overall skills within the team. It can be daunting being a young female in the construction industry, and without the right support I believe it can be easy to fail. Every person I have met at Wates has been incredibly welcoming and supportive, making my transition into the company completely”.Case Study 3: Cassandra Elbourne, Graphic DesignerAs an older female worker I enjoy the flexibility as the business acknowledges that we all have lives and commitments outside of work. I also enjoy the exposure to new experiences, the opportunity for new challenges while using my current skills and the team I work alongside. They are all very positive people, a great team with can-do attitudes who sometimes move mountains!

Showcasing female talent

Wates used this centenary as an opportunity to profile female colleagues from various levels of the business (see Case Study 4) and in a variety of roles through its 100 for 100 Campaign. The campaign continues to promote a better gender balance across our industry by promoting the roles, career paths and love for construction of each participant on the Wates website and across the Groups social media channels. Wates also supports International Womens Day by encouraging all employees to post about what inclusion means for them on Yammer and social media channels. See Appendix 8 for more information.

Case Study 4: Katrina Singcuenco, Design ManagerI have a real passion for construction. I am a Design Manager for Wates Residential working on the upcoming Havering developments. The projects are a 15-minute bus journey from my home, which will give me more time with my family and less time commuting. What initially attracted me to Wates was not only their reputation in the industry, projects and structure, it was their work-life balance and positive attitude towards people as an individual, which is very important to me as a professional, wife and a mother of two excitable boys.

Parental leave and flexible working

Wates promotes well-being, both through informal and formal flexible and agile working provisions to improve work life balance. People at all levels of the business (both on site as well as in office roles) can work compressed hours; job share; work part time or have agreed working from home days to enable them to balance home and work responsibilities.

The business family friendly approach also includes parental and adoption leave entitlements aligned to industry standards and a flexible ME and my benefits benefits package designed to tailor benefits to individual lifestyle needs.


4. Replacing migrant skills following Brexit

The impact of Brexit on our pool of labour is difficult to predict, however, the continuing uncertainty has reduced the number of people available for work and the competition for talent is resulting in higher wages.

The dearth of skills was already a known feature of our industry well before the EU referendum. Brexit has only exacerbated an existing situation. In our view, encouraging a wider talent pool which more accurately reflects the gender balance within society, is the right thing to do. Women are not a replacement workforce they are an essential part of what makes a balanced workforce.

Our focus must be on embedding an inclusive culture and employing the best talent, regardless of gender.


5. Recommendations

The recommendations outlined below are based on our own experience and learning.

Firstly, focus on inclusion for everybody as this will encourage an organisation to be more diverse from the outset.

Early engagement is key. Perceptions about careers are formed early, often even before children have begun school, and once engrained, these can be hard to change. Beginning to change childrens – and their parents expectations of what a career in the construction industry can be, is paramount.

Recruiting more women into construction is only part of the challenge as equal as challenge is retaining them once in position. Establishing a culture which recognises and encourages diversity is essential, and allow internal support networks to flourish. Involve your female workforce in developing the solution. Listen to women within your own business, empower them to share their experiences and use this to implement change.

Learn from other sectors when reviewing flexible working / parental leave policies. Its no longer sufficient to be on a par with competitors within ones own sector. We need to take the best from what is being pioneered by other sectors, who have been quicker to recognise the changing face of the workplace than construction. Happy people are more productive, with greater loyalty and positive mental health.

Promote visibility of women and champion female voices. Our industry may be predominantly male, however, if these are the only voices heard be that in company announcements to the press; industry show-cases and roundtables; or marketing then the 51% of the population which is female will assume their voices are not welcomed and this is an industry which is excluded to them. Provide role models for both career changers and younger women looking to see themselves in a career.
Help to overturn outdated perceptions. Use communications to move away from the hackneyed, outdated image of hard-hats and muddy building sites, and towards the high-tech, fast-moving and multi-dimensional world of modern construction.

Be bold in recruitment. If we always look in the same place for our candidates we shouldnt be surprised that we recruit the same kind of candidates. A wider and broader approach is required in relation to recruitment, from moving beyond the red brick universities and the milk rounds of yesteryear, to changing the way we market roles and the images and language we use. Be conscious of the inevitability of unconscious bias and recruiting in ones own image. A candidate should not be rejected on the basis that they might not fit in; rather we should recognise that difference and diversity offers new ideas and new opportunity for innovation and progression for the industry.

Finally, a better balance of behaviours and skills when sourcing and interviewing candidates will help more women to get further in the process.

In conclusion, we must work together. There have been many examples of excellent initiatives promoted by individual organisations. The examples are numerous, but the piecemeal approach has not moved the dial significantly. This is an industry-wide phenomenon which requires a holistic, industry-wide approach, driven by results and backed with sufficient resources. It needs to have clear, measurable objectives with success rewarded as appropriate.

Wates Group
May 2019


List and links to Appendices


SES Hovercraft Challenge at the Mount School in York

National engineering specialist SES Engineering Services (SES), part of the Wates Group, has now successfully hosted six annual Hovercraft Day challenges at The Mount School in York. The aim of this programme is to inspire young girls to become the next generation of female engineers.

This year the challenge was held in February 2019, with more than 80 Year 6 girls from six local schools designing and building their own hovercrafts, before racing their creations in a knock-out tournament. The students worked together in teams, alongside teaching staff and engineering PHD students from York University, to create fully-functioning hovercrafts powered by a leaf blower engine and capable of carrying one pilot from each team along a short racing track. This allows the students to learn from female engineering role models who show that there is a real place for women in the engineering and science communities.

Since its inception in 2013, the event has seen over 520 girls take part and has been strongly supported by York MP and Shadow Minister for Transport, Rachael Maskell. This year, places were filled within three hours, proving the popularity of the event, with many previous attendees now studying STEM subjects at A-Level.

The skills gap that is affecting the industry as a whole is even wider for women and we need to do everything we can to introduce more young girls to an engineering career. Many have preconceptions of what engineering means, without realising the scope for creativity and innovation that it brings. Initiatives like our Hovercraft Day are proven to help encourage young girls to consider STEM subjects later on and it was fantastic to see so many talented and creative girls rise to the challenge. Rachel Schofield, Planner, SES

Every year this event becomes more popular and Im pleased to see that SES and The Mount School continue to take the lead in encouraging the next generation of female engineers. Engineering is a vastly diverse and rewarding sector and we desperately need more young people, particularly women, to pursue careers in this field. Sparking an interest in engineering from an early age is our best route to ensuring we have the skills in place to deliver future projects which will be so vital to supporting our economy. Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central and Shadow Minister for Transport


Working in partnership with George Clarkes MOBIE to inspire a younger generation

Wates Residential has recently signed up to work in partnership with MOBIE on a pilot programme to design the next generation of homes across schools in five locations in September. This will target the involvement of over 150 children.

MOBIE was established in 2017 by renowned architect and TV presenter, George Clarke to inspire new generations to join the building and construction professions and fundamentally transform the way we think, design and construct homes both in the UK and abroad.

The tried and tested design challenge will target students at key stage two, aged 7 to 11-year-old, which has never been done before. This idea has been championed by both partners in recognition of the fact that this is an age group that is often overlooked in their exposure to the world of work and to the built environment with much of this engagement with external businesses done at Key Stage 3 and above.

The key aim is to make construction a positive choice for students and to increase the number of students who want to actively move into the sector. As such, an equal representation of male and female student will be targeted, bucking the industry average for women in construction currently.


Raising Aspirations – Young Minecraft fans in Havering use gaming skills to help design housing regeneration project

Pupils from the Rainham Village Primary School in Havering spent Thursday morning, November 22 using the computer game Minecraft to explore and design the Napier House and New Plymouth House sites in Dunedin Road, Rainham.

These sites are being developed as part of Havering Councils joint venture with Wates Residential to create thousands of more homes for local people.

Hetty Brown, one of the 15 pupils who took part in the workshop, said: Its a really fun way of designing buildings that you might use when theyre built and you can see what it might be like to design things for a career when youre older.

Led by BlockBuilders, which imports map details into Minecraft so models of real-world places can be created, the children used avatars to walk and fly around the sites proposed designs, which have been developed by architects and masterplanners JTP.

They were also given the chance to think about what they treasure most about the site, what they would trash and if they had any big ideas for improving the area.

Computer games like Minecraft provide a great opportunity for young people to experience some of the most exciting elements of construction and planning,

Using innovative and engaging ways to encourage interest in career opportunities in the sector is vital for the success of the industry and a great way of inspiring young people to think about their own futures.

We are really excited to review the best ideas with Havering Council and look at how we can use them on the scheme, which will deliver thousands of new homes for local people as well as a borough-wide legacy.

Kate Ives, development director for Wates Residential.


Marta converts work experience into a full-time career with Wates

Camden resident Marta was previously working as a Health and Safety Manager in the health sector before moving to the UK from Croatia but was unable to convert her skills to the UK construction industry. When Wates Residential offered her the opportunity to undertake work experience at its Abbey Area site she jumped at the opportunity and is now working for Wates Residential across London and the South on a full-time basis.

Tell us a bit about your route into construction

As a local resident to Abbey Area, I regularly walked passed the site and noticed the high standards of health and safety put in place by the Wates Residential team. This really inspired me to want to work for Wates so, after spotting contact details for their Community Investment Manager, Michelle McSorley on the site noticeboard, I called her up to ask about work experience opportunities. Michelle introduced me to my, now, line manager Martin Glover and he has been my mentor and role model ever since. I really do owe Wates Residential a lot for taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to progress my career. It has been a dream come true and I am now very hopeful of a bright future in the construction industry thanks to them.

What does your role involve?

A lot of my role currently involves shadowing Martin as I still have a lot to learn about the construction industry. He casts a wide shadow and is a truly inspirational leader through his positive behaviours and mentoring of others. He has also invested a lot of time and patience in supporting my career journey, including recommending books to read and sharing his immense knowledge. I feel privileged to benefit from his professionalism and experience and can only hope to achieve what he has in his career one day.

What is your working day like?

I start early on site at around 7am. Health and Safety is the number one priority Wates so every site holds a daily Start Right morning briefing to review the planned programme of works and associated hazards. Once this has been completed, no day is the same! I could be doing anything from attending a health and safety training course, meeting with subcontractors, participating in site health and safety review meetings, carrying out a monthly iMS audit, or providing advice and guidance to my colleagues about safe practices. This is central to why I love my job. The variety and opportunity to travel and meet with different teams across the Wates Residential keeps the role interesting and means that I can monitor and review the progress of different sites all at once. Being able to influence people positively and prevent harm is also a key reason why I chose health and safety as a career in the first place everyone should expect to return home safely at the end of the day as a minimum. I am also passionate about being able to positively influence the health wellbeing of our people as well as the environments that we operate in too.

What was your background before starting this role?

I hold a university degree in Health and Safety, majoring in Industrial Safety, which is recognised by IOSH. I also recently completed my NEBOSH Construction certificate as I was keen to continue my career route within construction following my work experience with Wates. I am a believer that most industry knowledge can only be gained by putting the theories learnt in the classroom into practice with on-site experience. While I have a lot of previous experience in health and safety, this has previously been limited to an entirely different sector so I have really valued the opportunity to visit and shadow experienced construction team members across Wates Residentials sites as part of my placement and now, as a full-time employee.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I plan to be working as an efficient member of the Wates Health and Safety team. At the moment Im still learning so much about the construction industry and getting up to speed on UK guidelines so I hope to be able to make a more measurable impact on our sites going forward. I am also keen to continue my academic learning by completing a Masters degree in the near future.


Career Ready Build Yourself programme

Career Ready has a long history of delivering employer-led programmes, giving young people access to professional networks and role models, providing the inspiration and motivation to break down stereotypical views and challenge limiting assumptions about themselves and the world of work. In late 2015 Wates was delighted to partner with this organisation to develop the Think Build project, which was later supported by other construction industry employers; as well as financial support from Arcadis, CITB and The Edge Foundation.

Thanks to financial support from Wates, Career Ready have been able to deliver the following:

In addition, Career Ready delivered Think Build Insight Day workshops to 580 students aged between 14-16 (Wates delivered to 215 of these students)

A Think Build Insight Day is a two-hour workshop which features interactive activities to raise career aspirations and to create a positive awareness of the diversity of careers within the construction industry

Students who participated in Think Build often commented that they would have never considered a career in the construction industry before taking part in the project. Over the two years 185 students participated in the (Think Build) Career Ready programme. 112 of these were male and 73 were female.

Career Ready has seen a significant shift in attitudes towards apprenticeships and straight-into-work career pathways. With a recent boom of degree apprenticeships, we are pleased to have seen that most students who progress from the Career Ready programme to become degree apprentices are doing so within the construction industry.
These Career Ready students had a notable personal impact because of the Think Build project:


My internship at Wates turned into an apprenticeship – Kyle Princess Marzan

Kyle Princess Marzan from Westminster Academy, our Leidos Student of the Year for the South of England, enjoyed a paid, four-week internship at Wates through the Career Ready programme. Here, she shares how the experience helped her gain a place on their apprenticeship programme.

My paid internship at Wates helped me to find what I want to be in the future and gave me the inspiration and determination to apply for an apprenticeship with them. Im so delighted that my application has been successful and that, from September 2019, I’ll be working at Wates as an apprentice estimator.

I feel so blessed and proud to have been successful with my apprenticeship application Id like to thank all the people who helped me through this journey.

Helen, my supervisor during my internship was a great source of inspiration for me. Shes one of the directors at Wates which amazed me because as a woman in a male-dominated environment she has managed to go into a managerial position which is inspiring for the career Im now pursuing. Id just like to say thank you so much for helping me to find the career for me and for giving up your time to help me achieve it.

The fact that my internship helped me find what I want to do in the future and gave me the experience to make this possible, shows the importance of experiencing the world of work for young people. I think that the highlight of my time at Wates was certainly doing site visits and getting lots of great insight into the different kind of jobs available in the construction industry.

For all those other Career Ready students out there who are going to start an internshipits such an amazing opportunity for you so embrace it! You get to network with people and experience lots of great things and you may even discover your dream career.

Learn more about how we help young people such as Kyle kickstart rewarding futures, or get involved today and make a lasting difference:

Appendix 7 – Wates ‘Highly Commended’ in International Women’s Day competition

Wates has been Highly Commended for best practice for our programme of activity promoting International Women’s Day 2019.

We were among 300 case studies submitted from around the world and we will be recognised on the IWD website soon in the lead up to IWD 2020.

Appendix 8

In July 2019, the Wates Group set a series of milestones outlined in the company’s new Diversity and Inclusion plan for creating a business where everyone is welcomed, included and connected.