Industry eye

“Why are there no female project managers? Because they all leave to have babies!” These were the words of my contracts manager, back in 1991, when I was starting out on my (short) career as a site engineer. For him, it was a daft question with an obvious answer.

But it is disheartening to learn that, twenty years later, nothing has really changed. A recent article in Construction Manager highlighted the fact that – in contrast with many other sectors – contractors don’t tend to offer anything other than statutory maternity benefits and when it comes to considering flexible working for new mothers, they are – well – inflexible.

It’s tempting just to say ‘it’s impossible to work part-time on a construction project’, but I wonder if it really is. I’ve visited sites where one man holds a senior position on two jobs and spends half of the week on one site, half on another. What if someone worked part-time, either on a job-share basis or was available remotely when not on site. Could that work too?

The thing is, us working mothers have to be pretty well-organised just to survive. And it’s amazing how focussed and productive you become when your working hours are limited. But unless contractors give women the option of coming back to work flexibly at first, they will never see the benefits later on.

Of course, anyone who wants a long-term career in construction really needs a supportive partner if they’ve got kids. But – guess what – men are willing and able to be househusbands or secondary earners. It’s a pragmatic choice that many couples I know have already taken. If mummy gets back into her career in construction and does well, daddy can do the school run.

I should make it clear that I didn’t leave my job with a contractor because I wanted babies. But when I visit sites today, and get that pang of regret that I didn’t pursue my first choice of career, I remind myself how difficult it would be – even now, 20 years on - to be a mum with young children and work on site.

This article has been written for Industry Image by Kristina Smith, who is a freelance construction writer and editor.