It's time to change the myth that "the infrastructure industry is a man's world and that it is not really a place for women." By promoting equal opportunities and gender sensitivity in the workplace, we can encourage more women to pursue a career in construction.
Atasi Das - Assistant Vice President, Design, G R Infraprojects, Gurugram
While women have made significant strides in fields such as the Army, Navy, and Aviation, their participation in the hardcore construction industry remains low. In this industry, women's presence is often limited to occasional site visits, and are rarely seen working alongside their male counterparts.
The construction industry, including roadways, railways, housing and urban development, telecom, airport, and other infrastructure projects, accounts for almost 9% of India's GDP and serves as a foundation for sectors such as service and agriculture. Women's participation in these sectors is critical for inclusive growth of the nation, yet their presence is largely limited to occasional site visits.
While women are making strides in traditionally male-dominated fields such as Defense, their representation in hardcore construction remains minimal. The signage "Men at Work" at construction sites is an indication of male dominance and no-entry of women in the core field.
Women's participation in the infrastructure sector is largely concentrated in unskilled positions, with little representation in mid- and senior level management compared to men. This is a trend common in developing countries like India, where women's contribution to infrastructure development is almost negligible.
Low participation of women in the construction industry can be attributed to social and cultural barriers, patriarchal ideology, industry-specific challenges, and a gap in skills and education.
Patriarchal ideology restricts women to agricultural and household chores or office-related jobs, which limits their participation in field jobs in the construction industry. A shift in mindset is required to challenge these traditional gender roles and create opportunities for women to participate in the construction sector.
Industry-specific challenges include inadequate site accommodation facilities, lack of CCTV vigilance, and impractical night shifts. Remote site locations in rural areas, especially highways and railways, further restrict women's participation in this sector.
Also, there is a gap in skills and education, where women may have a high level of theoretical knowledge, but lack exposure to site problems, which hinders their ability to sharpen their problem-solving skills.
Improving facilities and working conditions, providing specific training and counseling, changing the mindset of people, promoting recognition and showcasing achievements will boost the morale of women and motivate them to participate in the construction industry.
Infrastructure jobs are not limited to desk jobs like IT or banking sectors; they require site investigations, laboratory investigations, inspection of ongoing construction, and spot changes to designs. Creating gender-sensitive training programs and implementation environments will encourage more women to join the construction industry. Women can display instant problem-solving skills, given the opportunity.
Employers should also consider providing day-care facilities as almost 90% of women in India have to rely on their parents' grandchild-rearing duties.
Working and succeeding in the competitive and male-dominated field of construction has been an eye-opening experience.
I still remember the initial days when there was no washroom for women in the office, and I had to accommodate at site camps alongside my male colleagues. Despite the challenges, I take great pride in my success over the past seven years, having completed a roster of more than 50 national highway and expressway projects.
One of the most challenging projects I've undertaken was the holistic design, execution, monitoring, and maintenance of hill road stabilization and valley side widening. Climbing up and down the hills was a daunting task, but with the encouragement and support of the management and site execution team, I persevered until we reached fruition. Although I didn't perform the earthwork or construction myself, my presence and perseverance in getting the job done without any proprietary firm or product is an example of how to proceed with hill roads.