I have just been reading an article in the July edition of “Building Engineer” – the monthly Journal of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE). I and all of our colleagues around the UK have for many years been proud of the range and breadth of topics covered by the Journal, which, in my opinion continues to punch above its weight.
One particular article caught my eye this month. It was penned by Jayne Hall, who is currently a Vice-President of the CABE and also a Past President of LABC, the national body for Local Authority Building Control in the UK. Jayne has recently also joined the Board of Trustees of the CABE Benevolent Fund, of which I am also proud to be a Trustee.
Jayne’s Journal article was explaining that the CABE Chief Executive Dr Gavin Dunn has asked her to take on the role of the CABE’s “Diversity Champion”. Jayne’s article reflects on the inalienable fact that the Construction Industry, even after years of effort, still has a poor record in regard to Equality and Diversity.
Jayne makes the observation, based on a recent professional conference in Somerset she had attended, that “…it was clear that the construction professions, and engineering in particular, are still dominated by the traditional white middle class male – also mostly well into middle age too…”
Okay, she just described me, but I do take Jayne’s point and I have to agree with her. During the six years that I sat on the Board of Directors of the CABE in the mid-2000s (at that stage it was still just called the ABE) there were typically about fifteen or so elected Directors and Honorary Officers, of whom I cannot recall there ever being more than three women elected to the Board at any one time. But to be fair, that merely reflected the proportion of women standing for election … though one can only wonder how much a lack of encouragement to our female members may have restricted the numbers willing to stick their head above the parapet?
Similarly, I regularly sit on interview panels assessing Candidates for admission to Chartered level Membership of the CABE and the ratio of male to female candidates in my experience, is well in excess of 10:1. And yet, two of the four most impressive Candidates I can recall interviewing over the past years have been female (take a bow Karen and Saira, you were both excellent). It has been suggested that women have to try harder to justify their place in the industry, which is truly a shame.
I chuckled at some of the examples Jayne quoted in her article though, of “reasons” (i.e. pitiful excuses) for the lack of women employed in high level positions, which apparently have ranged from “…the board room being an uncomfortable place for women…” to “…the issues discussed at board level are very complex…” Oh, deary me….
Now, the Taylor Tuxford Associates Board meetings typically cover a whole range of issues ranging through: technical difficulties regarding ongoing projects, to establishing our Corporate policy with regard to the General Data Protection Regulations, to where we’re going for the Christmas Party. My own experience has been that none of the issues arising at any of our Board meetings have caused any of my female colleagues to fall off their chairs with a bad case of “the vapours”… that only tends to happen when we run out of wine at the Christmas Party, and isn’t just restricted to my female colleagues!
For the record, I am pleased to say that three-quarters of the total number of employees and two-thirds of the construction-related technical team at Taylor Tuxford Associates are female and moreover, I am proud to have the opportunity to work with them.
Alright, so there are only four of us altogether and maybe, as Amy always says, you can prove anything you want to with statistics, but we honestly are trying our best in that regard and, like the CABE, we are punching above our weight when it comes to gender diversity in the workplace.
To finish on a serious note though, the construction industry still has an awfully long way to go in this regard. It is still a novelty to find a female on a construction site – whether in a supervisory or technical capacity or on the tools – and in part, this is likely related to the apparent tendency for blokes not to accept women co-workers as they would another bloke and the (understandable) reluctance of women not to want to expose themselves to the often-misogynistic attitudes of their male co-workers.
The place to make a start on addressing the diversity imbalance is in our Schools. Until such time as pupils in the advanced stages of preparing for their GCSEs are persuaded – irrespective of their gender, ethnic background or of any inherent disability – that Construction as a career will be a worthwhile thing to do, then we are still going to be having this discussion in a further 20 years’ time.
If there are any Schools out there in the South Yorkshire area that would like someone to come along and give a presentation to their pupils about a career in construction, we will be very happy to talk to you about that.