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Calling all men: Do women have an ally in you?

Binyamin Ali

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.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I thought women wanted equality not special treatment. When I started as an indentured trainee QS in my class was a certain Beryl Foot (this is 1965). She had a very successful career ending up as Chief QS for Lain. I have no idea whether Laing treated her differently but there was no maternity leave (don't know if she had children).

    By the second day release no one noticed she was any different to the men, she was just good fun and cleverer than many of us. Site hours were 5.5days (55hours a week - in management usually much more as a) you were salaried and b) you were paid to a job not by the hour. Sites opened at 07:30 each day (most 'management' was on site around 08:00 - much earlier if the work demanded it - the only day you finished to a set time was day release delay and that could be 21:00.

    This part of the comment applies both to women and men, do the youth of today want a real job of interest or a pay packet for the minimum and most flexible number of hours.

    As an old boss of mine told a group of us contemplation marriage, tell your wife to be that you have two loves in your life construction and your wife in that order and if she is not prepared to accept that you should either find someone else or you will loose your first love and regret it. Mind you he also said that there are 7 days in a week and 24 hours in a day and you work 8 and 25 (as your work is always on your mind if you are any good at it).

    The other things to consider are the costs involved both to the firm (thus to our clients) and to the government (earlier pensions, etc.) and thus the tax payers.

    It should also be remembered that children are a bit like football injuries, self inflicted. This country is grossly over populated (twice the DEFRA sustainable population. Look at the indigenous Italian population birth rate and first pregnancy and that is a Catholic country.

    In 1964 in the sixth form we had a debate on equal pay and it was almost impossible to find any jobs especially professional or skilled jobs were there was a difference in pay by gender.

    I would suggest that if we load any end of the see-saw unevenly we will have a great difficulty in reversing it (as with the divorce laws - altered very necessarily to protect children upbringing but because no consideration was made of the new situation of childless couples or those with no longer dependant children we now have men forced to continue working into their seventies and beyond. Unfortunately this is unlikely to be corrected, if ever, in the lifetime of any of the current CN readers.

    Be careful what you wish for, your lives and mine will, as the Chinese say, be interesting.

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