14th July Journal Column

By Kate Lloyd, Partnership Manager, Constructing Excellence in the North East

For women, proving their worth in a male dominated industry has been a long and gruelling task. Although we have come a long way in terms of equality, it’s clear there is still a lot of work to be done.

Earlier this month, Loughborough University held a debate on whether women get a good deal in construction. Eight ex-students who now work in the industry took part, seven of which have only worked in the industry for under five years. Does this give a true representation of the thoughts of all women in the industry?

I spoke to one female Engineer who explained some of the casual sexism she has faced. As a Site Engineer she is frequently asked to take minute meetings, undertake document control or do admin jobs not within her job description. At first, she accepted these roles to fit in or be seen to be keen to help out, but overtime she realised whilst these are necessary tasks, by accepting them she was potentially changing the way her colleagues saw her and keeping her away from her on-site role, ultimately affecting her promotion potential.

Those involved in the debate felt that quotas for women is not the way forward and I agree. It’s about treating everyone as a ‘person’ regardless of gender. Yes, women have struggled in the industry, but favouring women causes more of an issue for the company and the woman herself. It’s in the industry’s best interest to recruit and promote based on talent.

As with most ‘women in construction’ debates, discussions included the lack of female toilets on site. It’s a basic human right that we have the facilities we need but do we need individual male/female toilets? Unisex toilets with all facilities should be enough. If the issue is that site toilets are unsanitary, we must address that. Unisex toilets are becoming more popular in all industries, whether they be a cost or space saving initiative, they also support other challenges e.g. the transgender agenda.

As an industry, we are moving forward from the equality agenda to talk about Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) across the industry, between people, professions and companies. In the Autumn, we plan to bring practical support through the FIR Toolkit, free to construction companies and suppliers via the Supply Chain School. More information is available at; https://www.supplychainschool.co.uk/default/fairness-inclusion-and-respect 

I must say, in our region, I’ve found that attitudes towards women in construction have changed significantly and are more positive than ever before. We may still have work to do but there is an appetite to improve but we still need your help.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.