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'Women just don't have the hair for hard hats!'

Women in construction, changing equality.

The Inspire Summit 2018: Women in UK Construction, Engineering & Housing saw an array of speakers and attendees offer their perspective on many different topics that pivoted off the subject 'women in construction.' Gina Tara has detailed her account of the experience and her opinion's below, she attended the event on behalf of WPS Compliance.

There is no question that there is a lack of representation of women in construction. Dr Pragya Agarwal demonstrated this in her talk, offering us the raw facts that a pitiful 12% of the sector is women. But how do we attract them into this dynamic and ever changing industry?

From listening to the talks my initial reaction is to question our culture, this isn't just about an industry. We have systematically created inequality from day dot. How do we encourage women into an industry where we have treated them differently since birth? We have conditioned the way in which we treat each sex with no questions asked.

Pragya provided us with findings on what young women think of the industry. 85% of young women perceived the industry as masculine. One attendee who was inspired to become an architect from a young age commented that 'all young children enjoy playing with lego and building things so what changes?' I agreed with this comment and it demonstrates that even with our culture creating gender ideals, young girls still enjoy the idea of building.

To encourage a equal culture we need to question the processes and standards we have set ourselves, we need to address our own behaviors not just from the large commercial construction companies but from the SME's and mirco businesses.

I enjoyed listening to Nigel Wilson, Paul Chandler and Duncan Williams perspective on this. All three of them have a large role to play in promoting the movement for females in construction. Paul made a great point of ''why treat women in your personal life different to your work'' it was refreshing to hear such a valid point in that why are we treating women differently who are trying to do a similar role to a male? He also went on to describe an interview he carried out with a woman, who talked herself out of the job within five minutes. She told him all of the things of why she was not suitable for the role i.e working hours, single parent etc. Paul went on to express that regardless of her statements he still listened and ended the interview with a 'when can she start?' Whilst I loved this account it describes an underlying insecurity in women in that they don't feel good enough to be taken on because their personal life is too diverse and won't be suitable for the company.

This is such an important issue that needs raising. 9-5 just does not wash anymore. Women are not applying for roles that they would like as it won't suit their lifestyle. But, with the flexibility and support of a company they can excel. Isn't this something that we wish for all our employees? We need to change our strategies to accommodate a different generation of person now. Women do want careers and companies need to recognise this and start adapting the way in which they are creating a working environment.

 

Our keynote speaker was Barbara Res who triumphed all odds and built the 'Trump Tower' she spoke of construction in the 70's and 80's and the radical attitudes and experiences she endured. It's incredible to see such resilience in a woman who had to face discrimination every single day. Barbara reminisced the letters she received detailing 'why women don't fit into construction.' 'Women just don't have the hair for hard hats.' I would love to see this list of reasons. Using this example it would seem we have come along way from those days, but have we truly? Perhaps we are not so extreme in our approaches but, it's one job getting women into the industry it's two getting them to feel valued.

So what can you do as a construction company? Ask yourself how is your company being represented. What are the messages are you communicating? How are you saying them and who is saying them? What does your company offer both females and males i.e paternal leave, pay, perks etc not every woman wants to attend golf days like not every man wants to attend horse racing, these are all attitudes and assumptions we have all made across history but to achieve what we need to and to support our future generations in construction it's time to adapt, it is time to change.

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