Building the foundation for gender equality in construction

Published on 23 April 2024

“Building a diversity agenda that includes inclusive action is like building a house – with the foundation being the leadership commitment. In the middle, you have the pillars that support the house. This becomes your gender action plan. You must check [performance] in these areas. You must report so that decisions can be taken, which is [key] for the intervention.” — Beatrice Kiruri, HR Business Partner / DEIB Manager at Bamburi Cement Ltd.

Globally, a significant gender gap exists in labour force participation, with women comprising only 61.4 per cent compared to 90 per cent men.[i] In construction, an industry that contributes to 13 per cent of the global GDP and employs over 100 million individuals[ii], women are highly underrepresented. For example, in the European Union, women represent just 10 per cent of construction workers.[iii] Despite challenges like unconscious bias and limited female representation, an increasing momentum of companies in male-dominated industries, such as construction, are committing to gender equality through the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs).

For the first global WEPs industry-specific workshop of 2024, the UN Women invited industry leaders Rovena Duckallari, Marketing Manager at Matrix Konstruksion (Matrix), Eric Chambraud, Strategy Director at VINCI Construction Grands Projets (VINCI), Angela Wenger, Group Head Talent & DEI at LafargeHolcim Ltd (HOLCIM), and Beatrice Kiruri, HR Business Partner/DEIB Manager at Bamburi Cement Lt (Bamburi) for a collaborative discussion on advancing gender equality in the construction industry.

Commencing with a plenary session, each speaker shared insights into their respective company's action plan. 

Frontline insights from industry leaders

Women’s representation

Rovena highlighted the integration of gender equality and into Matrix’s business practices, emphasizing the importance of leadership commitment and proactive measures to foster inclusivity. The main challenge was achieving gender diversity at all levels of the organization, especially in leadership positions, due to longstanding societal norms and biases that make companies struggle to attract and retain women, in particular in the male dominant construction industry.

Rovena recommended companies to prioritize leadership commitment to the WEPs and actively advocate for women’s career advancement within the organization. This involves setting clear goals and targets for gender diversity, implementing inclusive recruitment and promotion practices, providing leadership development opportunities for women, and monitoring the effectiveness of the policies on a regular basis.

Bias and stereotypes

Eric stressed VINCI's efforts to combat biases and stereotypes through the Grands Projets au féminin programme, aimed at promoting gender diversity and challenging stereotypes in the workplace. He shared VINCI’s initiatives to challenge stereotypes and biases about the women in male-dominated industries. Examples included implementing awareness programmes, creating gender-diverse steering committees, and fostering inclusive language and representation in corporate communications.

Eric recommended diversifying recruitment, facilitating women’s career paths, and implementing initiatives to increase women's representation and promote inclusivity within the organization. This includes promoting equal pay, proposing solutions for better work-life balance, and providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities to advance women’s careers.

Creating an inclusive workplace

Angela discussed HOLCIM's focus on creating an inclusive workplace, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the diverse perspectives on inclusivity across different regions and accommodating varying cultural contexts and legal frameworks is a key challenge. Achieving inclusivity requires understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by women in different contexts.

Her recommendations included tailoring initiatives to address the specific needs of different regions, advocating for programmes that make women feel included and represented, and fostering strong support from senior management. Companies should implement clear policies including zero tolerance, focus on a few selected improvement areas, share and show off successes and failures and ensure progress is being measured through SMART KPIs.  She suggests approaching topics such as flexible work hours, parental leave, female career growth and health, as part of one big employee life cycle, rather than through standalone initiatives. 

Measuring and reporting

Beatrice emphasized the importance of measuring and reporting progress at Bamburi, highlighting the company's commitment to transparency and accountability through the WEPs Gender Gap Analysis Tool. Their main challenge was building a strong culture of measuring and reporting to effectively drive diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

Beatrice recommends companies to establish clear policies and procedures, utilize WEPs tools, and report on their progress regularly to senior management and external stakeholders. Measuring gender representation at all levels of the organization, promotion and exit rates, maternity and paternity leave uptake, and gender pay parity is key to identify areas for improvement and celebrate successes along the WEPs journey.

Empowering voices for gender equality

The second half of the session featured breakout groups, providing a forum for signatories to exchange knowledge, and offering a secure environment for companies to deliberate and provide recommendations on the following:

Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace 

  • Increase the representation of women in the construction industry, particularly in high-level leadership positions. This involves encouraging  girls to pursue STEM studies and careers from a very early age.
  • Create a workplace culture of inclusion and diversity that supports women's advancement and empowerment, including by 
    • Implementing flexible work arrangements and supportive policies for new parents, including maternity leave benefits and childcare facilities.
    • Providing mentorship, leadership coaching, and career development opportunities specifically tailored to support women.

Engaging men as allies along the company’s WEPs journey.

Targets and Monitoring

  • Set specific targets for increasing the percentage of women at all levels within the company, 
  • including for engineering and technical positions where women are underrepresented.
  • Monitor progress through regular assessments, performance reviews, and data tracking to measure the effectiveness of diversity initiatives.


  • Cultural and societal stereotypes in society that associate the construction industry with male dominated roles, leading to recruitment challenges and lack of women role models.
  • Labour union resistance and ingrained prejudices related to women’s employment and advancement within the industry.
  • Lack of women’s representation in STEM education and career pathways


  • Encourage senior management commitment to the WEPs.
  • Foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing within the industry to promote good practices and address common challenges collectively.
  • Focus on sensitization efforts to challenge prejudice and stereotypes, creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for women in construction.

By signing onto the WEPs, participating companies demonstrate a shared commitment to creating inclusive spaces where everyone can thrive and contribute meaningfully to the workplace, marketplace, and community. Looking ahead, continued collaboration and implementation of actionable strategies will be crucial in advancing gender equality and driving positive change across male-dominated sectors worldwide.