Why the time for women to join construction is now

7 min read

This article is part of our Grow Together perspective series, highlighting the opportunities and culture of the industry.

Construction is booming in many parts of the Middle East and there is a growing need for hands-on expertise in project and programme delivery. Irem Aksay, Associate Director in Consultancy, explains how our industry can be a force for eradicating gender inequality. And why the time to drive positive change is now.

Any woman in construction knows that there is work to be done in overcoming gender bias. It’s not an issue unique to the Middle East, or our industry. It’s a global business challenge.

Bias is notoriously difficult to spot. Workplace studies repeatedly indicate that leadership qualities in men are perceived negatively in women. We know that commonly held beliefs about leadership default to stereotypes about masculine behaviour, which is a main reason for unconscious gender bias. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear that when a man is seen as ‘decisive’, a woman with the same traits is regarded as ‘bossy’.

Clearly individual experiences vary, but it is an undeniable truth that women must fight harder to develop their careers in what is historically, a male-dominated industry. That being said, progress around gender equality can and will happen, and the opportunity to drive it forward is at our doorstep. This is the time for construction firms and the wider industry to rise to the challenge.

A window for change

In many parts of the Middle East, construction activity is booming on an unprecedented scale. The market in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has rebounded following the contraction that took place in 2020, with Expo 2020 Dubai opening its doors to the world last October and the impressive One Za’abeel due to complete later this year.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), there is US$ 1 trillion of developments in the pipeline with another US$ 2 trillion still to be spent. As part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 (which aims to diversify the economy away from a reliance on oil) the goal is to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%. With the number of giga-projects planned, there is ample opportunity for women to develop their construction careers in this part of the world - as long as the leaders in our industry pave that path.

Of course, talent is not gender specific. As Middle Eastern markets mature, clients’ expectations are driving a demand for experienced, outcome-focused construction consultants with a forward-looking mindset. But to deliver on the growing pipeline of projects in the Middle East, we need to attract a diverse pool of expertise, while also retaining and developing our existing workforce. It’s this type of demand that creates the impetus to stamp out gender bias, and the onus is on organisations to be a force for that positive change.

Education. Support. Culture.

Culture sets the tone of an organisation and it’s underpinned by education. Purpose-led businesses like Mace are leading the way for our industry through a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and employees across all of our hubs are a key part of that journey.

The business has introduced mandatory global training policies to support colleagues, raise awareness and ensure compliance across a range of areas - from health and safety to unconscious bias, with the latter in particular helping to create a supportive environment for women in the workplace.

Mace also supports employee-driven networks that are both sponsored and supported by the board. Open to all colleagues regardless of sex or gender identity, the Women at Mace network drives positive changes within the business by removing barriers to success and narrowing the gender pay gap.

These are just some of the initiatives taking place within Mace. More work is underway to make sure that women take up leadership roles across the business – not because they are women but because they are given the same opportunities as their male colleagues.

The future leaders of our industry will be found amongst the next generation; amongst our graduates, our apprentices and our emerging talent. As an industry, we need to attract a diverse pool, and nurture that talent throughout their career, giving them the opportunity to thrive.

But in the meantime, education, awareness and collaboration foster the right workplace behaviours and help us move the dial for the better. We join construction because we love the built environment. It’s an exciting place to be, and by championing diversity and inclusion while we see these incredible projects and programmes through to fruition, we create meaningful change for our clients, our industry, and the wider communities in which we serve.




I want a better perspective on