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Black South African women in construction: cues for success

Jane English (Department of Engineering, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)
Paula Hay (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)

Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology

ISSN: 1726-0531

Article publication date: 2 March 2015

Issue publication date: 2 March 2015




This paper aims to describe the findings of interviews based on a questionnaire and a focus group discussion (conducted in 2011) with three Black women employees who were part of a 2006 study, which canvassed 176 employees and employers, in which carpentry was found to be considered the most accessible and appropriate skills area for women, and chronicles their development and assessment of current employment for women in construction.


The focus group was made up of the women from the 2006 study still in the same employment or better positions in the same company Neil Muller Construction (NMC) after five years. Women from NMC, in particular, were selected because the company has been considered a best practice example and therefore would provide an interesting context in terms of the issues around retention of women and potentially a model for the industry. Foci are female representation, barriers, conditions, skills acquisition and employers’ attitudes to family responsibilities. In particular, measures to support women and the impact of role models and mentoring programmes are discussed.


The results of the 2011 focus group study show that positive measures for women to work in construction are developing, both through legislation (e.g. the Construction Charter) and company efforts such as those of NMC. Both the 2006 and 2011 studies highlighted that female attributes such as being peacekeepers on site were considered favourable, indicating a positive shift in attitude regarding women working in construction.

Research limitations/implications

There has been and remains a paucity of research into and literature on the topic of women in the construction industry, particularly working at the skills level.

Practical implications

The paper has practical implications for employers wanting to increase employment and retention of women on site by providing a best practice example.

Social implications

Increased employment of women is a statuary requirement of South African employment law. Women are, on average, the lowest wage earners.


The paper reviews challenges for women in construction and ways these can be circumvented through interaction between industry and companies. The challenges are entry and retention because of the practices and attitudes typical in a male-dominated work environment. As a follow-up to previous research of 2006 into barriers to entry for women, this paper adds value by considering retention and a best practice example. As women’s lack of knowledge of the sector is also a barrier, this paper contributes to building knowledge. Further research should determine developing trends in terms of women’s representation in the construction industry.



English, J. and Hay, P. (2015), "Black South African women in construction: cues for success", Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 144-164.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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