Getting more women into construction isn’t easy; the job has a very male profile, has lingering perceptions of being a bit sexist and, let’s face it, isn’t seen as the most glamorous of careers when stacked against the many other options out there.
The “look” isn’t up to much either, with most personal protective equipment (PPE) clothing for women all seemingly cut to a man’s template, but just a bit smaller. I’ve been on many construction sites with clients over the years and those protective or hi-viz coats are generally massive, with sleeves too long, trousers too big and, which I am sure to many people’s amusement, comes with the added risk of falling down. Sometimes I have to roll them over several times at the waist just to get them to stay up!
The boots are no better, often being far too large both in length and width, but also in overall design and if the company has a size six you’re lucky! Hard hats often don’t fit, they’re too big and don’t take into account ponytails/buns on top of heads. Is it really necessary to sport a short-back and sides just to get a comfortable protective hat?
In fact, you can often identify the women on site as all they typically look like the kid on their first day at school with the one-size fits all look that hopefully they’ll one day “grow into”.
There are some changes; Transport for London launched its first range of safety clothing designed specifically for women in 2015 as part of its commitment to supporting an increasingly diverse workforce and a couple of other contractors have recently launched PPE for women, but progress is slow.
Safety is an issue and paradoxically it is the badly fitting “men’s-fit” clothing that increases risk. Ill-fitting PPE puts women at risk of injury either directly by failing to adequately protect the individual or indirectly by restricting free-movement, which leads to mobility issues.
More must be done if the construction sector is to consider itself truly inclusive and with the underlying skills shortage ever present – anything that make it easier, or more attractive for women to enter the construction sector has to be a bonus. Clothing may seem trivial, but how can a sector ever consider itself as equal if the PPE is essentially men’s clothing cut a bit smaller?
Of course, no one is talking “attractive” here as the issue of PPE is 100% safety and not about the “look” but just as a man wouldn’t accept shoes that are too small or a hard hat that keeps slipping off then why should a woman?
PPE for women is not about compromising safety or protection. I have checked and PPE cut for women’s sizes does not affect its protective efficiency and, as mentioned above, may well improve it. So, come on PPE manufacturers, look to a growing market of “women in construction” and size and style PPE clothing accordingly. You never know, it could actually be profitable too.
- Debbie Darling is director of Jooce Marketing & PR