Linda Clarke is a Professor of European Industrial Relations in the Westminster Business School (the UK) and responsible for a distinct programme of research in the Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment. She holds Master’s degree in Architectural Studies and a PhD from University of London in the area of social and economic history.
Her interests concern labour, vocational education and training, labour history, and industrial relations. Over the years she has been undertaking research on skills, VET, qualifications, wage relations, social protection, labour history, diversity, gender, migration and labour organisation in a range of European countries. Much of this research has concerned the construction sector, about which she has particular expertise, and been undertaken in collaboration with social partners. In 2022 she was awarded the VET Researcher Excellence award by the European Commission.
QUESTION: What is your professional/educational background?
ANSWER: I am a Professor of European Industrial Relations in the Westminster Business School (the UK) and responsible for a distinct programme of research in the Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment. I have Master’s degree in Architectural Studies and a PhD from University of London in the area of social and economic history.
QUESTION: How long have you been working in the building sector (or dealing with the topic of women in construction) and what are your main professional tasks?
ANSWER: I have been doing research for many years now on labour in construction, particularly vocational education. We have also done a lot of projects over the past 20 years on women in construction and the means needed to bring more women to construction. I have also worked on European projects, including with FIEC and EFBWW.
QUESTION: How do you view the current situation of women in the construction sector?
ANSWER: It is still very low participation in most countries and professions, apart from painters in Denmark. But I think the industry will have to go through some fundamental changes soon. And therefore, it could open more possibilities for women. There are more women training in construction than actually working in the sector and that is an important consideration because it implies the difficulties for women to enter the market, even though they probably meet necessary qualifications.
QUESTION: What do you think is the reason for this?
ANSWER: We have worked closely with an organization called “Tradeswomen Building Bridges” and looked into this issue. In addition, the “Building and Wood Workers’ International” has been doing several initiatives. We had a delegation in London last June and we held a few events over nine days with American TradesWomen (see https://tradeswomenbuild.org) and some European countries (including Norway and Poland). It is worth noting that the United States have done a great work on this issue, they managed to increase a number of women in construction from 3% to 10% and they have prepared some guidelines on how to achieve this, in particular through the training process.
QUESTION: The construction industry is still a male domain. What measures can be taken to significantly increase the proportion of women in the near future?
ANSWER:The first problem is the structure of the industry and the fact that there are a lot of small companies in all countries (for instance, the UK, Germany or Sweden). There are different solutions in different countries to bringing in more women. In Germany, for example, legally women were not even allowed to become carpenters or bricklayers until mid 1990s. So probably it probably takes a while to change this culture. I know in the UK and Italy where there is a huge number of self-employment combined with SMEs that there is a definitive problem of women coming into construction. First of all, you need direct employment and that is extremely important for work related training.
There is also a question of facilities on sites (bathrooms, a place to wash your hands), personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves or gigantic shoes that do not fit. Those are the things that usually put women off. It is also very important to have at least one more woman on site, otherwise it becomes extremely difficult to work on male dominant site.
QUESTION: What potential do digitalization and green technologies offer in this context?
ANSWER: Digitalisation helps to improve conditions on sites. Nowadays physical tasks on large sites are not heavy physically like they used to be in the past. And actually, electrical works are ideal for women. They also drive heavy vehicles.
QUESTION: What advantages do you see in a higher number of women in construction professions?
ANSWER: Generally, women are better qualified than men coming out of education. So that is a big benefit. What is more, women are better with communicating with other people on site and working together, they are not afraid to ask if they don’t know something.
QUESTION: What advice would you give to young women considering a career in construction?
ANSWER: It is an incredible area. I would suggest getting a good training and networking that could give support. First few months working on site could be difficult and horrible, and if you could get through them, it will be easier. For this purpose, it is important to have support from your network.