22 June 2023

At Fawcett, we want to support all children to be who they want to be. Fawcett research has shown that by age 6, girls will avoid subjects that require them to be "really, really smart", which reads across to a lower take-up of STEM subjects later in life. That's why we are so proud to partner with Wates Group on Equal Play, our campaign to support parents, caregivers and influential adults to challenge gender stereotypes with kids and close the gender play gap. 

Here, Amy Smith, Partnership Director and Co-Chair of the Parents and Carers Network at Wates Group, tells Fawcett why the construction industry must avoid gender stereotypes, and encourage girls and young women to take up STEM subjects. 

When you picture a construction worker, who do you think of? Someone in a hard hat, a high-vis safety vest, goggles, and boots? A man?

The construction and built environment sector is one of the biggest employers in the UK and is predominantly male-dominated, with women making up less than 15% of the total construction workforce.

This means we’re potentially missing the talents of half of society and that just isn’t acceptable. Today more than ever, we need to represent the communities we serve, and ensure that we understand, design, and deliver to the needs of the women occupying the spaces we build. And for that, the sector needs the full participation of women, and them not being put off by perceived poor image or stereotypes. 

At Wates, we believe that by making our culture more inclusive and our team more diverse, we will become a better, more sustainable, and more successful business. That’s why we’re building pathways to encourage more women from different stages of life to explore the opportunities available within our industry. We are instituting pioneering relationships with organisations like Women into Construction, STEM Returners and STEM Women focused on early careers to open doors to our industry and create awareness of the many ways you can build a meaningful and financially secure career in construction and the built environment.

To inspire young women to see sectors like ours as a potential career choice, society needs to ensure that children are not inheriting outdated gender stereotypes which could limit their career potential.

So we’re pleased to be partnering again with the Fawcett Society, sponsoring their ‘Equal Play’ campaign, providing parents and caregivers with practical tips and resources to challenge stereotypes in their interactions with children, as well as running a series of events with insights from experts and opportunities for parents to feed in their own experiences.

Research by Fawcett has shown that gender stereotypes result in girls by the age of six avoiding subjects they view as requiring them to be “really, really smart”, contributing towards their lower take-up of STEM subjects later in life.

These internalised and rigid job-gender perceptions and expectations are causing children’s future career ambitions and employment aspirations to be needlessly and unfairly limited, irrespective of their actual ability.

Whether deliberate or unintentional, these gender preconceptions can be hard to shift. The research found that when asked what career path parents could see their kids following when they grow up, seven times as many could see their sons working in construction (22%) compared to just 3% for their daughters. Similarly, almost three times as many could see their daughters in nursing or care work (22%), compared to 8% for sons. This gender stereotyping has long term effects on real life career outcomes, as well as contributing to the gender pay gap in the workforce.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our industry offers a huge range of exciting and rewarding career opportunities, ranging from embedding green technology as we transition to net zero, to creating local legacies for communities to come together, such as the Sandwell Aquatics Centre at the Commonwealth Games. Whether you ’re passionate about the environment, interested in reimagining the future of how we live, or curious about using data to transform the way we work, this is the sector for you.

At Wates, we want children to have early and equal opportunities to consider a career in our sector, including learning about the skills needed to create sustainable homes, for example, through our ‘House of the Future’ programme – a ‘build-it-yourself’ model home showing kids how green technology can support the transition to net zero.

Once embedded, preconceptions can be hard to shift, and it’s essential that we do what we can to open young people’s minds at an early age to ensure they can realise their potential. We know parents, caregivers, teachers, and practitioners all want to make a difference.

We encourage you to explore the range of practical tips and resources from ‘Equal Play’ to challenge these harmful stereotypes when interacting with children.

Amy Smith is Partnership Director at Wates’ property services division, and co-chairs the Wates Parents and Carers Network.

Help us close the gender play gap