To achieve gender equality we must accelerate our efforts together

To achieve gender equality we must accelerate our efforts together
Home Insights To achieve gender equality we must accelerate our efforts together

This International Women’s Day, our Inclusion & Diversity Director, Nikunj Upadhyay, shares her thoughts on the importance of creating long-term sustainable change, the building blocks and investment needed to bring more women into our industry, and the great strides we are taking to make our business and our industry an inclusive environment where diverse talent can thrive.

International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women and is an opportune time to reflect on the progress we are making, especially considering the recent World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023, which says it will take another 131 years to reach gender parity. That’s way too long! I’d like to see tangible progress towards gender equality in my lifetime. This is why I’m really energised by the United Nation (UN)’s theme for this year: Invest in Women: Accelerate progress.

To make progress, we need consistent, diligent efforts. And that’s what we have been focussing on at Wates since we launched our inclusion and diversity strategy, Wates Together, in 2019. We’ve been consistently striving to be more representative of the communities we serve. We know that there is no one single solution to get us there. The journey is nuanced and made of many different pathways, but we are moving in the right direction.

Creating pathways for women

One of the biggest priorities of our inclusion and diversity strategy is to encourage and welcome more women into our workforce, in all phases of their career. In December last year we renewed our partnership with STEM Returners, return-to-work specialists that enable individuals who have taken a career break to step back into work. Through our 2022-2023 cohort, we supported six women returners back to the industry and we look forward to welcoming 10 more returners this year.

In celebration of our 125th year in 2022, we launched a partnership with Women in Construction aimed at bringing 125 women into the construction industry by 2025; so far 60 women have come through the programme. Through this partnership, we are raising awareness, creating opportunities and widening the industry talent pool by increasing the number of women applying for and working in construction.

As well as bringing in new talent to Wates, we’re also committed to those who want to build a career with us. In 2022, we introduced a Mentoring Circle programme for our site-based women colleagues who told us that they felt as though they didn’t have the same access to networking and relationship-building opportunities as their male peers and office-based colleagues. Our programme enables women to grow their networks and have career-building interactions at work. So far, 15% of the programme’s first group have been promoted, and the programme now extends to 80 women within our business.

Eliminating the gender pay gap a step at a time

Our industry is predominantly male with Construction ranked last among all industries when it comes to representation of women. This is changing now but the reality is that the more experienced and consequently more senior among our workforce are men that began their construction careers at least two decades ago. This invariably means there is a significant gender pay gap. To see a shift in this, we need more women in senior roles, and this will take time. In 2023, 32% of our most senior leadership was female and 35% of our non-operative new joiners were women. We are making progress and putting systems in place now that will create real change for the future. So, the reduction in our gender pay gap is incremental, but it is happening.

Aiming for systemic, sustainable change

To create meaningful change and make a real difference, alongside recruitment and retention, we need to look deeper into every aspect of inequality and create policies that treat people fairly. For example, consider the inequity in statutory parental leave policies. Fathers and partners today have access to one or two-weeks statutory leave. Research by the OECD found that around 75% of the gender pay gap is caused by the ‘motherhood penalty’, and that men should therefore be supported to take more parental leave.

For this reason, we have been investing extensively in our family leave policies over the past four years to make Wates an organisation where everyone loves to work. In 2020, we enhanced our family leave policies to offer fully paid maternity leave and enhanced shared parental and adoption leave with matched maternity pay. In the same year we launched our 8-week full pay paternity/partner leave policy – our first step towards equalising parental leave. As well as demonstrating our commitment to equality at work and home, I’m delighted that this has inspired our industry peers to follow suit and many now offer similar enhanced leave.

I’m confident that these changes will create long-term impact for the future. It supports our ambition to be fair, creating equitable opportunities for all talent and improving experiences right now. It also ensures that the changes are sustainable as they are the building blocks that will bring us closer to a future of equality and equity.

It’s days like today that I look back and see how far we have come since we launched our inclusion and diversity strategy. Today, 31% of our non-operative workforce is female. This is a significant milestone, as the women’s representation has moved from minimal to meaningful – and there is no better place than Wates to build a career. In 2023 we were awarded the Women into Construction’s Opening Up Opportunities for Female Talent Award and were once again named as one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Gender Equality.