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Ray O'Rourke's view of women working in the trades is outdated

LETTERS

Sir, Ray's O'Rourke's comment that 'it is unrealistic for the industry to believe that manual labour and skills gaps can be alleviated by recruiting women to the construction industry' is an unsubstantiated opinion (Agenda, June 1).

The reality is that currently tradeswomen are doing just that either as sole traders or as employees in construction companies. Many construction companies see the business case for employing the best person for the job and yes, sometimes that is a tradeswoman.

I thought that we had moved on from the days when we have to justify the business case for diversity. But if Ray doesn't want to take up the best talent the industry has to offer, then that is his loss. There does seem to be a contradiction in his letter to staff, as he goes on to say that Laing O'Rourke does employ women at all levels. I do wonder how many tradeswomen are employed by his firm.

Mr O'Rourke's comment that a building site 'is not a place where women fit' is not just sexist and offensive, but also outdated. It serves to undermine the presence of tradeswomen working in his own company and indeed reinforces an out-of-date view of tradeswomen working on site generally.

Currently, the majority of our members at Women and Manual Trades are self-employed and many of them choose to work in the domestic market rather than on site. This is not at all surprising when attitudes from some in the sector are blatantly non-inclusive.

During the Second World War, women plugged the skills shortage and worked in all manual industries, including construction, so it is not accurate to say that it is 'unrealistic'. Whose reality are we talking about? When the economic conditions require it, women can and have filled the skills gap, and I am sure that the future holds great opportunities for tradeswomen, especially with the upcoming Olympics.

Women manual workers across all sectors make up about 35 per cent of the workforce. Women doing manual work is not in itself the issue as clearly women do heavy, dirty work in other sectors and industries. Cultural attitudes in the industry are one of the biggest problems. At best these act as barriers and at worst are just outright discriminatory.

We have a long way to go before it becomes commonplace to see tradeswomen on site, but I am confident that it will come, just as it did for other occupationally gendersegregated workplaces, such as nursing, firefighting and the police.

Ray O'Rourke is entitled to his opinion and it has been said that he has just stated publicly what a lot of other people say privately. But I really wish that he would keep his thoughts to himself on this particular issue and get on with the business of employing the best person for the job, thus creating opportunities, rather than limiting them.

Karen Procter Director Women and Manual Trades London EC1