Des Moore, CEO of Trad Group and president of the NASC, on how construction can tear down the barriers facing women and the steps his organisations are taking.
Why is the lack of women in construction such a vital issue?
I’ve been promoting women in our scaffolding business for 20-odd years.
We’ve got a number of women already – comparatively speaking – in quite senior positions, including one of our board directors. We took on Ros Howe in an admin role about 18 years ago, and she’s now the group HR director for Trad, which is a £100m group with 1,000 employees.
The motivation wasn’t to satisfy any aims of being diverse. Women add a great deal of value to a business because they can bring different perspectives in terms of problem-solving, and bring a great deal of balance to what is a very male-dominated environment.
What encouraged you to get behind CN’s Inspire Me campaign?
It’s something that is one of my primary objectives as the president of the NASC: encouraging and having much greater involvement of women in the organisation.
The Inspire Me campaign came out at the right time and ticked all the boxes in terms of offering a greater platform to be able to achieve that [within] the NASC membership and the industry in general.
What steps is Trad taking to get more women into underrepresented roles?
We’ve started a programme for female contract managers where they can spend time on site with an experienced scaffolding manager, and gain the required practical knowledge by shadowing.
We do the same with the various yards we have and the equipment and so on, so they end up with a basic knowledge without having to go through the practical route of being a scaffolder.
“There is a definite prejudice against females with the possibility of having to do flexible working”
We’ve brought women through various other roles in the business – surveying, estimating, HR – we’re extending that so we’re able to have more women in a contracts management role.
What steps are you taking to get more women into senior roles?
At the NASC AGM, Karren Brady delivered a speech to our members.
She’s written a book called Strong Woman and one of the things she speaks about is that there aren’t many women in board positions throughout the workplace in general, not just construction.
One of the reasons for that, if people are actually honest, is interview boards say they get very few applications from women who have the required skillset. And one reason for that is they’re not given the same opportunity at the outset to gain those skills.
“The director said that they were concerned by the fact she had two young children and couldn’t start at the same time as the male candidates”
There is a definite prejudice against women [in terms of] the possibility of having to do flexible working when they end up having a family.
If you employ a young woman, at some point she may want to start a family and want to continue her career, which will require a fair degree of flexible working.
How should cultural change be driven in the industry?
Like with a lot of things, cultural change has to come from the top down.
You need your senior managers and directors to buy into it, and you’ve also got to show them what degree of benefit you can obtain from much greater female representation in the workforce.
Organisations that have these initiatives don’t really drive it forward. Even as progressed as we might be as a business, I would still come up against some degree of prejudice when women apply for a position.
I had a situation quite recently in one of our companies where we were down to a shortlist for two sales people, and there was one very good candidate who wasn’t put on the shortlist, who was a woman.
“The NASC now have a female vice-president […] she’ll become president in two years”
I asked for the reason why; the director said they were concerned by the fact she had two young children and couldn’t start at the same time as the male candidates.
I said it wasn’t an appropriate reason whatsoever. She was subsequently put back on the shortlist, and at the second interview she was head and shoulders above the two male candidates.
It’s a classic example, even in our own business.
The NASC now have a female vice-president [Lynn Way], the first in the NASC’s 73-year history – she’ll become president in two years.
Where do you think the industry will be in five years’ time on this issue?
I think we will be further on than we are now, but it will really come down to the CEOs of construction companies really driving the initiatives forward on a consistent basis.
There’s no point in just becoming a sponsor of Inspire Me, for instance, and then after the initiative has ended, you let it decline again.
It needs to be consistent and I think we will make a significant amount of progress over the next five years, but there will still be a long way to go.
I think there is still a hidden underlying prejudice, particularly in construction, about flexible working hours, which is one of the prerequisites if you want to take on and progress women through the senior roles.
Des Moore is CEO of Trad and president of the NASC