Growing up as a Nigerian from one of the least developed communities, I have identified that our continent Africa and Nigeria in particular has a problem in infrastructure that is yet to be addressed.
Engineering as a discipline is male dominated both globally and locally. For us to retain the women we have, we need to create more opportunities for them whether as colleagues, wives, sisters or friends.
In the construction industry generally, it is perceived that only men work on site. Everyday at work, I hear a lot of people say things like, “this is my first time of seeing a female engineer on site”. What this literarily means is that we have left the work for men alone, allowing them to decide a significant part of our lives – building homes.
There is need for us to begin to rethink the way we build infrastructure and who builds them. This will begin from design to procurement, construction, finishes, and even commissioning. On the long run, this will help us to recognize talent inclusively, bridge the gender gap, increase the retention of women, and also work towards achieving global goals.
For example, on a construction site, you will discover that most safety wears, boots and signs are designed to be more compatible with men. Some read – ‘Men at Work’. Some are with visual signals that denotes men.
As a starting point to inclusion on construction sites, access to construction areas including walk-ways, stairs, and temporary platforms should include women in the design. Also, initial site planning and management should include restrooms for women as well as men.
While some women are working hard and pushing to be outstanding in the profession whether as technical leaders, engineers and project managers, there are some reasons why many people feel women should not be on site.
Firstly engineering and construction is male oriented, as workers on site are already used to taking instructions from men, which has been a norm for centuries.
Secondly women are believed to have poor leadership skills and as such receive bais from both the society and those above them who ought to be an excellent support to enhance their productivity and performance.
Thirdly women are believed to be too sensitive amidst a few others which are not true. Perhaps on site when they delegate responsibilities and follow up to ensure that it gets done, managers may conclude that those are small things. One way to help is by constructively critising them when necessary, evaluating their performance for the sole purpose of providing useful feedback that could lead to self-improvement.
Overall, we recognize that over 90% of workers in construction are men. There is need for managers, leaders, engineers and decision makers to begin to shape the future through inclusion, shared opportunities, equity and promoting a culture of respect and empathy.