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Inspired in Manchester

Lucy Alderson

This morning CN took its Inspire Me campaign up to Manchester – the first event we’ve put on outside of London for nearly a decade (with many more planned).

Today was the second of four workshops we are putting on across the country this year to help women advance their careers and to get more females into senior leadership roles in the industry.

Trad CEO Des Moore chose to celebrate his birthday as one of four guest speakers who gave advice and insight on how to remove the career barriers women are facing.

This morning’s panel included Skanska Development managing director Helen Martin, Manchester Airports Group property CEO Lynda Shillaw, and Willmott Dixon Re-thinking director Julia Barrett.

The aim of the workshops is for delegates to learn – and feed back to their employers – how to ease some of the pressure points women face as they make their way up the career ladder.

Some of the challenges women come up against were identified by delegates this morning, including a lack of flexible working to fit in with other commitments (such as caring for elderly relatives); biased recruitment and promotion; lack of women in the industry to fill senior positions; bad behaviour (such as everyday sexism); and a lack of role models.

Here are three takeaways from the event on how to break down these barriers.

1) Flexible work for men and women

A lack of flexible working opportunities for both men and women working in the industry is a barrier when it comes to juggling work commitments outside the office.

Breakfast briefings at 7.30am and 8am-6pm working days can be challenging to juggle alongside the school run or caring for relatives, delegates said.

A solution to this is to “be smarter” about how your businesses structures working patterns, according to Ms Martin. For example, scheduling meetings at more practical times when everyone can be involved.

Furthermore, making sure men are offered these flexible working options as well is just as important, Ms Barrett added. This ensures men and women can take an equal role in meeting out-of-office commitments.

She added that men in senior positions should be leading by example and taking up paternity leave. “It needs to be made acceptable for men to be dads,” she said, citing a Willmott Dixon trial on flexible working that had made construction sites more rather than less efficient.

2) Calling out bad behaviour

One delegate shared her experience to the panel, asking for advice on how young women can tackle the issue of everyday sexism in the industry.

Despite being four years into her construction career, she is often asked whether she can “make the tea” for meetings and do admin work that is not part of her role. Her male counterparts are not subject to the same treatment, she said.

Mr Moore described this as “unacceptable” and said he had put in place an “open door” policy at Trad whereby senior staff are expected to always be on hand to hear staff concerns or provide support.

Ms Shillaw said the delegate’s experience reflected a dearth of leadership, adding that it was crucial for management to set the right tone and ensure company cultures did not allow that type of behaviour.

3) Tackling recruitment

Construction is still seen as a labour-intensive, site-based industry by the public, which can act as a deterrent for the future generation of female workers deciding which career route to pursue.

This is one factor preventing women from coming through the pipeline to fill senior positions.

“One issue is that educators need to be educated,” Mr Moore said, explaining that schools were not prepared to back construction as a viable career option. Changing this was critical, he added.

All panellists agreed that the industry also needed to target women working in other industries as part of the recruitment process – an essential step towards creating diverse workforces and taking the industry forward.

Get involved

Go online for more information on CN’s Inspire Me campaign and email to register your interest for our next workshop in Birmingham.

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