London’s Sofitel Hotel played host this morning to the first workshop for CN’s Inspire Me campaign, which aims to encourage and support women into industry leadership roles.
It was fantastic to see such a strong turnout, particularly in the face of wretched weather conditions.
Notable by their glaring absence, however, were many of the industry’s leading men.
“Looking around the room, the men whose mindset we need to change aren’t even here,” said one attendee during the feedback session following roundtable discussions.
Train troubles, chaps?
Given that construction’s workforce is 88 per cent male, I’m not convinced snow on the lines is the only reason why male counterparts of the likes of Landsec head of development Beth West and Mabey CEO Juliette Stacey decided to stay away.
There was certainly a smattering of men. But discussions around female leadership in construction need to involve more of the people with the power to make change happen.
This is not a pitch to get more attendance at these workshops (with today’s having been fully subscribed).
But if senior men are not getting involved in discussions over the lack of women in construction, how can they find out that the prevailing culture is hindering their businesses in ways they haven’t even considered?
For example, one attendee highlighted how it’s commonplace for onsite workers to compete on the hours they’ve worked – “I’ve been here since 7:30” being a common refrain, with anyone arriving after this time greeted with “good afternoon”.
What happens when you put someone into this scenario who bears the majority of the child-rearing responsibilities at home, the attendee pointed out, and has been given some flexibility in their hours?
This person will potentially be on the receiving end of undeserved remarks and pressure, which could even lead them to quit the industry and add to its skills shortage.
So how do you get management buy-in – let alone communicate to employees – that competing on length of hours worked is an obstacle to gender diversity?
It’s a tricky one, but a good starting place would be to accept that if the industry is to modernise and survive (even flourish), women have a place in construction and they need male allies.
It was encouraging to hear about a group of male workers who downed tools until welfare facilities were provided for female colleagues who previously raised the issue.
Construction is one of the last bastions of male-dominated workplaces, but with campaigns like Inspire Me and so many more pushing for change, it feels like change is just a matter of time.
How fast and how effectively this change occurs depends on how many men choose to get behind it.
Visit inspireme.constructionnews.co.uk for full details on CN’s Inspire Me campaign.