Women mean business: challenging the idea of traditionally male industries

Kathy Deehan
- Leadership - May 26, 2017

Gender parity in the workplace is important. Companies are beginning to realise that having a diverse workforce not only allows them to better represent their customer base, but it can also translate into profits.

Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to perform better than their respective national industry medians and a mixed workforce has shown to positively impact innovation. In fact, if women are enabled to meet their “full potential” in the workplace, it’s predicted that $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025.

But, despite this promising outlook, there are still industries that remain male-dominated. It’s no coincidence that these are also the industries which have long been considered traditionally ‘male’ vocations, such as construction, logistics, engineering and packaging.

Dispelling the gender myths

Whether it’s the assumption that women simply aren’t interested in certain sectors, or the misconception that the work is too focused on physical strength, there are a variety of traditionalist views on why certain industries are considered ‘male’.

Currently Head of Operations at Story Contracting, an award-winning infrastructure solutions provider, Emma Porter was exposed to the industry from a young age when her father ran his own construction business. Having worked in the construction industry most of her life, Emma doesn’t think any of these theories hold water.

“In the 17th and 18th century, and in wartime Britain, there were a lot more women working in a variety of trades than there are today. It was the advent of the early trade unions and masters’ associations (which excluded female apprentices) that resulted in the sharp drop of women in construction trades.

“There’s a strong perception that [the construction industry] is ‘not for women’ because it’s a ‘dirty’ job. If you're on site during the winter then yes, you'll probably get a bit dirty, but nurses have to deal with worse and yet that is a female dominated profession.”

Naomi Climer, Immediate Past President, Fellow and Trustee of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) agrees that a belief certain industries are considered ‘dirty work’ and so not suited to women has persisted.

“Parents and teachers are still discouraging children from considering professions in engineering by depicting it as drab or dirty. What so many young people don’t realise is that engineering will give them work wherever they want: in the office or outdoors; on your own or as part of a team; working with computers or without them. You could work with food, chemicals, machines, electronics, bridges, railways or design software. It is an amazing range. Young people need to be made aware of that.”

What is changing?

Naomi isn’t the only one who believes more needs to be done to educate and encourage women to take up careers in these industries. Several initiatives have been set up to highlight the issues faced by women in the workplace, and specifically, women in industries considered traditionally male. Women in Packaging is dedicated to creating a strong support network for women, as well as encouraging them to join the industry.

WISE is campaign focused on getting more women into the science, technology and engineering sectors.

“The women who choose to work in STEM love what they do and do very well,” says Helen Wollaston, CEO of WISE, a social enterprise that provides expert support and advice to educational institutions and employers on how they can attract and retain girls and women in these industries.

“I want to redress the balance so that more women can enjoy the benefits and more companies will benefit from having great people in their teams.”

What still needs to change?

The message from women working in these sectors is clear; the idea that women aren’t suited to certain industries traditionally classed as ‘man’s work’ needs to be changed.

But there’s still work to be done. Encouraging more women to join these industries is the first step towards creating gender diverse and more profitable workplaces. Rajapack, a Europe-wide packaging company, interviewed 10 women working within these industries to find out what they think needs to change and how they believe these changes can be made.

To view this industry insight and explore the stories of women working in traditionally male industries, you can view Rajapack’s interactive report.

By Kathy Deehan, Category Manager, Rajapack

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