Insights

Women in construction + emotional intelligence = better industry

Construction is an industry that offers so many opportunities and so many different roles in the creation of our built environment. Yet it is a greatly overlooked industry in terms of its status, both as a future career choice for the next generation, and by society as a whole who often don’t appreciate the design expertise, the technical skills and the intricate problem solving techniques required to build our roads, schools, hospitals and homes.

The largest sector of society that overlooks the industry is women. The industry has seen a drop in the number of women from 19% to 11% over the last few years. At a time when workload is beginning to pick up once more and skills shortages have become our next crisis; if we are already alienating 50% of our potential workforce, that shortage will only get worse.

More women equals more emotional intelligence.

We’ve seen countless drives and initiatives over the years to increase women’s involvement in the industry, mainly targeting issues such as harassment, bullying and the subconscious sexism for instance, which are just some of the barriers that make recruitment and retention of women in our industry such a challenge. And whilst these campaigns and the support for women have been to a degree effective, and are certainly vital for cultural and behavioural change, there needs to be something more we can do that will create a stepped change.

And coupled with the fact that the industry is often criticised for poor leadership and management skills; isn’t it about time we introduced a different solution; one that makes use of something women tend to have more of than men… introducing emotional intelligence (EI).

industry is often criticised for poor leadership and management skills

What is emotional intelligence (EI)?

Popularised in the mid-1990s by Daniel Goleman, put very simply, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a person’s ability to manage and regulate their own emotions, harnessing them to become more productive, as well as better team members and leaders. In addition high levels of emotional intelligence can improve a person’s ability to manage other people, using skills such as empathy in order to help them motivate or negotiate.

The construction industry has not been as receptive as other sectors to the concept of EI. Perhaps this is because it is seen as a ‘soft skill’. Or perhaps the word ‘emotional’ in a male dominated environment is largely unappreciated. Yet construction is an industry that relies heavily on teams and interpersonal relations, effective leadership and people management is key. And key to people management is emotional intelligence. The evidence says so.

diverse organisations, outperform their competitors by 15%

EI training of people has been trending in other sectors for several years now. Retail, finance, and even the armed forces are being taught the skills of EI. And having worked with my colleague and EI coach, Dr Michelle Brennan, for the past 5 years it has become more and more clear to me that construction is missing out.

More emotional intelligence equals better industry.

We are often portrayed as an industry that doesn’t like the idea of being touchy-feely in our approaches to management, but the business benefits of increasing our EI are widely accepted as indisputable. Notably, women are good at engaging with their emotions and perhaps this is part of why women leaders in particular are proven to be more collaborative, less adversarial and more inclusive (all the skills our industry needs right now) as a study by Mckinsey shows. This same study also evidences that diverse organisations, outperform their competitors by 15%. We need more women in our sector.

We are often portrayed as an industry that doesn’t like the idea of being touchy-feely in our approaches to management

Blighted by poor performance and poor collaboration perhaps it’s time we took this different approach to improving our wonderful industry. I’m not saying it’s the complete answer to all our problems but should we become a more emotionally intelligent workforce, more consciously aware of our responses to certain situations or people, perhaps we can obliterate the issue of subconscious sexism and unconscious bias altogether enabling a more diverse workforce – and a better industry for all.

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