On March 8 2018, International Women's Day will focus our attention on the role of women within society, communities, families and workplaces around the world.
One hundred and seven years since the first International Women's Day was celebrated in 1911 and we enter 2018 surrounded by the Hollywood scandal of sexual harassment and abuse in the movie industry and the revelation of huge pay gaps when the BBC published a list of its highest earners. The shocking statistics showed that of the 96 names, only 34 were women - the majority in the lower salary bands - revealing a huge pay differential between men and woman who do similar jobs.
Sadly, our own industry is not faring much better with gender parity. Data from the Office of National Statistics compiled at the end of 2016 indicated women represented only 12.8% of the construction workforce and a pitiful 4.2% of women were self- employed. The proportion of women in construction is barely higher than pre-recession figures of 2007.
Perhaps at the root of this are the age-old problems of the stereotypical image of the industry as being dirty dangerous and macho; the perception of a misogynous culture and not least the widening gender pay gap. Whilst male and female graduate surveyors can expect to earn similar salaries at the outset of their careers, RICS research in 2016 indicated male surveyors earn on average £11,000 per year more than a woman in a similar role. This difference suggests that, where management & leadership positions are mainly occupied by men, women may become disenchanted and leave the industry as their opportunities for career progression become more limited.
Interestingly, looking back on my own career, on the surface it does not echo the rather bleak picture painted by the statistics. From an early age, I held aspirations to be an architect and set out on my career path as a trainee with a local firm of chartered architects and surveyors. It was the early 1980’s and I was the only girl on the technical team! With the support and encouragement of my employer, I obtained my qualifications as an architectural technician and gained the confidence to start my own design consultancy in 1990. Being self- employed gave me flexibility and the opportunity to carve my own direction and I chose not to take a break to raise my two daughters. However when my personal circumstance changed I saw it as an opportunity to transfer my skills to another sector and my career in Local Authority Building Control was born. I found myself once more, in 2003, the only woman holding a technical role amongst an office full of men.
Despite the perception that local government is highly regulated in respect of employment rights and diversity, this is where I found the traditional stereotypes most invasive. From colleagues who looked down on me and openly stated, under the guise of light-hearted banter, that I should be at home looking after my family, to a manager asking, on news of my second marriage at 43, whether I was likely to be getting pregnant soon?! I know many women who have endured similar or worse, but felt it necessary to keep their heads down and press on rather than make a fuss!
But this wouldn’t happen these days... or would it? Look around ... the young engineer being passed over for meaningful projects on her return from maternity leave...the young male site operative who is ridiculed by his workmates for asking for PPE ...in 2018 discrimination and bullying need to become a thing of the past.
True equality is good for everyone, so it is fitting that the International Women’s Day tagline is #pressforprogress. http://internationalwomensday.com/Theme
Becoming a member of CABE encouraged me to think outside the box in relation to my career path. Engaging with my Regional group and meeting other construction professionals outside of my own workplace opened my eyes to the many different roles and opportunities. CABE’s training and networking opportunities are available to every member.
This year I am very delighted and proud to be elected by my peers a Vice President of CABE a post previously held by only two distinguished women past presidents, Diane Marshall, Head of Building Control at NHBC and Beryl Menzies, director of Menzies Partners Ltd Chartered Surveyors and Fire Safety Consultants.
All my female contemporaries, particularly those in management roles, can send a strong message that the construction industry does offer a broad range of opportunities to women.
I hope my story will inspire and encourage other young people, especially girls, to choose construction and building engineering as a stimulating rewarding and highly valued profession
As more companies recognise that diversity is essential to the health of the industry and well-being of its workforce the construction industry may still win the battle to retain its best and brightest women.