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Tackling gender diversity is an education for us all

Tom Fitzpatrick

Construction News launched Inspire Me this year to encourage women to pursue and achieve leadership roles in this industry.

This week we exclusively reveal the results of a survey of more than 5,500 people and 500 companies in construction, compiled by Randstad, which perfectly encapsulates the reasons why we launched the campaign.

Our first event in London last week was a real eye-opener. We were massively oversubscribed, but it was notable that only a handful of men had registered to attend.

One delegate had the excellent suggestion at the end of the workshop that each delegate bring a male companion to future Inspire Me events. The need for male allies was a clear theme.

Yes, there are dinosaurs in the industry. We had a handful of moronic comments in response to the Randstad survey, which aren’t worth repeating here. But the truth, probably, is that many men who aren’t showing an interest in gender diversity are simply unaware of why they should be, rather than wilfully trying to prevent women from reaching the top.

My mother set up her own business while single-handedly raising five children (I have four sisters). It’s easy for me to believe that women can do anything and everything in business because I saw what it took for her to start and run a business first hand.

But despite being raised in a female-dominated house, I have at times felt ignorant, or at least uncomfortable, while researching and launching Inspire Me. Women I’ve spoken to at our events aren’t shy about telling me to consider issues for our campaign which I’d overlooked – not out of malice, or spite, just a lack of awareness.

“This isn’t about whether gender diversity makes sense. It’s about showing those in charge why it makes good business sense”

I was asked if we’d consider doing meetings over ‘elevenses’ rather than breakfast. An 8am start makes it difficult for some women, as mothers, trying to get kids ready for school on a weekday.

One woman asked our expert panel how they went about calling out inappropriate comments or behaviour when it happens regularly. Again, it hadn’t occurred to me that women were being forced to weigh up how many times they responded to inappropriate comments, rather than whether to at all, for fear of damaging their job prospects.

We need to discuss thorny issues such as quotas, discrimination, sexual harassment and more, because frankly, there’s an education process for business leaders (male and female) in the audience, for women who want to progress in their careers, and for people like me behind the microphone.

This isn’t about whether gender diversity makes sense. It’s about showing those in charge why it makes good business sense.

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