Women currently make up only 13 to 18 percent of the cement industry workforce—even less in higher management positions.
How can the cement and concrete industry support women and improve gender diversity across a company’s hierarchy?
This was the topic of a recent panel discussion at the World Cement Association’s (WCA) Virtual Open Day. Moderator Manon Burbidge, Communications and Policy Coordinator at WCA, was joined by:
- Ma Jiaomei, Cement Pyro Systems Engineer at Sinoma International
- Faith Musinga, Head of Legal, Risk & Compliance at PPC Zimbabwe
- Christie Gamble, Senior Director of Sustainability at CarbonCure Technologies
- Burcin Temel McKenna, Head of Cement Process and Systems at FLSmidth
- Harshit Gupta, HR, Training & Development at JK Cement
The panel discussed the current state of diversity in the cement industry and shared four ways that companies can work to improve the representation of women in cement and concrete.
The cement industry has seen advancements in equality and gender diversity as it becomes more common for women to play leading roles within the industry. At Sinoma International, female workers account for nearly 50 percent of employees in Ma’s department of 50. “The female workers do the same work as men, the same laboratory experiments, the design work. They have the same opportunity for work and the same salary as the male workers,” said Ma.
But there is still much work to be done in truly embedding gender diversity throughout the cement and concrete industry. Globally, women are still underrepresented. “Let us go right through the chain to the top of the corporate ladder. I would love to see a situation where we've got more female CEOs in the cement industry,” said Faith.
1. Challenge and change mindsets
Cultural norms and rigid mindsets continue to create barriers to gender equality in traditionally male-dominated industries.
Harshit acknowledged that the cement industry is considered “a rough and tough job,” a perception that can cloud awareness of women’s abilities and expertise.
“In the business of cement, people’s mindset can also get cemented; but this is the time we all have to be agile,” said Harshit, who added that his company, JK Cement, shares success stories of women in their industry to help challenge stereotypes. “We have to stop believing that companies are giving certain benefits to women because they are exceptions or they are weak. They are competent and they have skills equal to or far exceeding men.”
Traditional views of a woman’s place in the home also affect women in the workplace.
Faith noted that in Africa, where the cultural norm positions the husband as the main breadwinner, male employees unconsciously presume that married female employees don’t need equal remuneration.
On top of that, the majority of household duties and childcare often continue to fall to women, even after working the same full day as their male counterparts. “Unless we achieve equality at home, how are we really going to achieve it in the workplace?” said Burcin.
2. Promote STEM education for women and girls
Supporting the education of women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects can help to develop their interest and skills for careers in the cement industry.
Along with offering scholarships and internships to women and girls studying technical subjects, Faith suggested that companies develop mentoring programs that target women. “Catch the girl at the career modelling level, explain what is available in the cement industry and then mentor them through. I think this would go a long way for our cause of having more women in the industry,” she said.
JK Cement supports a number of schools and colleges across their plant locations, where they involve students in the day-to-day operations. “We give them a flavor of what it is like to work and make them understand that, whether a boy or a girl, it's equal,” said Harshit.
3. Recruit more creatively
The technical nature of the cement and concrete sectors can make it seem unapproachable from the outside. But by recruiting from outside, and providing any necessary technical training, companies can tap into new talent, ideas and perspectives to help them innovate.
Many job seekers are looking for opportunities where they can have a greater impact in the world. Burcin suggested that traditional businesses can appeal to women and younger generations by building on their work in sustainability.
This has been Christie’s personal experience. She shared how she hadn’t planned on pursuing a career in the concrete industry, but was attracted to CarbonCure’s low-carbon mission. “It was the sustainability element of, ‘how do we support this incredible industry in its pursuit of decarbonization?’ and the recognition that this is very meaningful for the global carbon initiative,” said Christie.
4. Create a supportive workplace
When looking at how to increase female leadership across the industry, Christie suggested that companies should provide incentives and structures that encourage and recognize diversity, such as competitive salaries and sexual harassment policies.
Parental leave is a prime example of a policy that must apply to both men and women in order to be effective. “Men must also have support from the workplace to be able to take the kids to a doctor's appointment so that those responsibilities don't always fall on women,” said Christie. “This allows women to have equal opportunity to advance their careers as well.”
As well, Burcin recommended that companies consider how they can support employees who are returning from parental leave to continue on their career path.
Fostering women’s empowerment in the cement and concrete sectors requires changing cultural mindsets, expanding educational opportunities for women, rethinking recruitment processes and creating supportive workplace policies and structures.
There’s no quick fix to creating equitable workplaces and an equitable world. “It has to start with equal treatment, equal opportunities and whatever it takes to reach that 50 percent representation at every level—not just the starting or middle management, but at the top too. We have to keep pushing for that,” said Burcin.
For more insights, watch the recorded panel discussion: Embedding Gender Diversity at All Levels: Supporting Women in the Cement Industry.