The pay parity issue is very subtle and fragmented. It doesn't exist at entry levels any longer - but tends to widen as you go up the chain and hit that invisible ceiling.
Dola Roychowdhury - PE (Geotechnical, Marine & Environmental Engineering) Founder Director, GCube Consulting Engineers LLP
Diversity and inclusion have always been important to me, particularly having worked in an industry with a skewed gender ratio for over 30 years, especially in field jobs.
Compared to the global gender ratio of about 12%, India's female ratio is much lower, and less than 2% of those women reach executive decision-making levels. Although there is an improvement in the ratio at entry levels, with more women engineers graduating and joining the workforce, the drop-out rates at mid-career levels are still astronomically high.
It is essential to accept that women are physically different from men and have unique needs, such as menstrual health and post-partum issues. Employers, colleagues, and families need to be sensitized to these needs, and solutions need to be found. Stereotyping women as primarily nurturers at home needs to be overcome.
At project sites, particularly in remote locations, women face additional challenges, such as availability of basic facilities like hygienic restrooms, safe accommodations, and childcare. If not addressed by the company, these issues can lead to dropouts from the workforce.
At the government policy level, revisions in the Minimum Wage Act have initiated de-genderisation.
The UN's SDGs are also pointers towards reducing gaps in the construction industry. NGOs are doing their part at the project site level. However, the construction industry needs to be more sensitive and adapt to diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a part of their policies. Men need to take the lead in showing solidarity with women's needs as their wives, sisters, daughters, and other women are or will be part of the workforce.
While the pay-parity issue does not exist at entry levels anymore, it tends to widen as you move up the ladder, hitting an invisible ceiling. Policies and their proper implementation can help equalize pay parity. Losing skilled mid-level workers is more expensive than the minor cost of implementing policies that can help retain and facilitate re-entry after career breaks for women engineers.
The current generation of men has seen more mothers working outside homes than my generation did, and this is definitely bringing higher acceptance of women at the workplace. However, to accelerate this progress, infrastructure companies must implement policies such as maternity and paternity leave, returnees' policies, upskilling, and mentoring programs.
For women who have succeeded in the construction industry, their journey has not been easy.
Women have to work harder than their male counterparts to reach a top position and to maintain it. While some may have had a slightly easier start if their families were already in the construction business, they still had to earn the respect of their teams through grit, determination, and hard work.
Successful women must share their experiences, not just professionally, but also personally. They can discuss challenges related to work-life balance, family support, navigating biases, and social pressures while maintaining their individuality.
For upcoming women engineers, it is crucial to have strong domain knowledge, seek mentors both within and outside the organization (regardless of gender), and continuously upskill with an open mind. No one comes job-ready, and every individual must identify their core skills over their initial work areas and shift roles laterally to gain the best vantage.
Technology and automation have certainly aided the construction industry, but hands-on experience remains crucial for construction engineers.
The pandemic has brought about a shift in the way we work; the current hybrid mode of work needs to be adopted more widely in the construction sector. This may have its challenges, but it is necessary for progress.
Technology has also proven helpful for working mothers, allowing them to manage their home and work responsibilities more efficiently. However, societal pressures and a mother's guilt can make navigating these responsibilities challenging. Families need to support women in the workforce so that they can overcome such challenge.
As a field engineer, I had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the country, particularly for greenfield infrastructure projects in remote areas such as Odisha, upper Uttarakhand, J&K, the Northeast, interior Jharkhand, and in cyclone-hit Sundarbans.
These projects often presented physical challenges such as long workdays, tough terrains, lack of hygiene facilities, and low communication networks. However, the support of family, colleagues, and teams made the journey fulfilling.
Despite these challenges, there were many joyful moments, such as enjoying local farm produce, witnessing beautiful sunrises, and bringing relief to residents affected by disasters. It has been a fulfilling 30-year journey in the construction industry for me, and I hope to continue promoting equity for women engineers in the industry.
The empathy and respect I developed for diverse cultures, geographical constraints, basic amenities, education at grass-root levels, primary health at work sites - this real education opportunity could only be accorded by the construction industry.