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Do you want women in construction?

Do you want women in construction?

Yesterday I was privileged to be asked to be on the panel at the Construction News Inspire Me event in Birmingham.

Inspire Me is the CN’s campaign to get more women into Leadership positions but yesterday it was also asking the question, ‘how do we attract more women into the industry and retain them?’

I was joined on the panel by Ann Bentley, Global Board Director of Rider Levett Bucknall, Naomi Connell, Chief Finance Officer for VokerWessels UK, Rachel Toor, Assistant Site Manager for Shaylor Group and Adelaide Forbes, HR Director for Mace Macro.  All very different, inspirational women……. and me!

As you can see it was an all female panel, we were meant to have a man join us but he couldn’t attend at the last minute.

The statistics around diversity and inclusion speak for themselves.  Reports such as, ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ from Mckinsey proves that a more diverse workforce, particularly at board level, increases profits.

There are a lot of positive initiatives happening in organisations to improve diversity and attract more women into the industry but this isn’t necessarily being filtered down the supply network.

One of the most powerful questions that was asked was, ‘do men want women to come into construction’?  The woman who asked this said she would like to see men on the panel who work on site, someone in the trades, someone further down the Contractor’s supply network answer that question.

Attitude on site is definitely a big blocker for women.  There is still a lot of misogyny going on, you certainly need a thick skin at times to put up with the ‘banter’.  So, where did this ‘special’ culture stem from?  Is it because it’s mostly men and a lot of testosterone?  Do men actually like the ‘banter’? Or deep down does it hurt their feelings but they don’t feel they can say anything?

If we want to attract more women into the industry then site needs to be a more welcoming place for them.  I believe that people feel that they just can’t be themselves in construction, would you agree?  Women sometimes feel that they have to be like men to progress and men feel like they have to be the ‘tough guy’ and put on a mask when really, they’re struggling with all sorts of emotions but they can’t let it out.

Another big takeaway for me yesterday was the blocker of inflexible working for women.  A lot of companies say they have a flexible work policy but quite often this doesn’t apply at site level.  This was certainly the case for one woman I spoke to yesterday who is really struggling to juggle getting to site and childcare, especially when her Site Manager wants to organise a meeting for 8am.

There is also the perception by men that ‘woman’s networks’ are just ‘jollies’ to get out of the office.  Because we are in the minority, women need networks like this to join together, share experiences and boost their confidence and push back more.

Women are different to men, fact.  There is more and more research being carried out about the neurological differences between us and how we think differently, this is why Diversity matters.

So, two ways we can get more women into the industry is for Contractors to work with their supply networks to change the culture at site level and to be more flexible about flexible working.

I would also recommend 3 books.  The third one, by Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30% club has one of the best quotes I’ve read recently and really sums up what needs to happen:

“It’s not about women adapting to the male environment, but about creating a new environment with men”.

The Mask of Masculinity: How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships and Live Their Fullest Lives

Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies for increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line

A Good Time To Be a Girl: Don’t Lean In, Change the System