An open letter to my institute – 5 reasons why no women finalists in the CIOB CMYA Awards is very bad for the industry

Chrissi Hard HatWhen I worked in construction I had an ambition – well I had a lot of ambitions and still do – but there was one with a particular focus. I wanted to win CIOB’s CMYA (Construction Manager of the Year Awards) ; for me they were the only awards that showcased the best of the talent in the industry. I felt if I ever won an award it would show that I had achieved something that was very important to me – that I was the best I could be at my job.

The awards played another part in my career – when I decided to leave site management as a profession to focus on how to change the sector to make it better for the people within it, I did one last thing before I closed the door just to check I wasn’t making a terrible mistake – one last thing before I left behind a career that had been an important part of my identity for about 15 years.

I looked up.

I looked at CEOs, industry presidents and, of course probably most importantly, the CMYA finalists. I looked up to see if there were any women there – to see if women could make it if we only tried hard enough.

What I saw confirmed my worst fears – women were not present at the top of the industry.

This was back in 2007, and things have changed – my ambition is now to gain a PhD, help the industry improve and grow a successful business. RICS, RIBA, CIOB, ICE and IStructE have all had their first female presidents, Laing O’Rourke and Mitie both have female CEOs and CITB appointed its first female board member.

Some things have changed for the worse – the number of women in the industry has fallen from 13% down to 11% and the CMYA 2014 had no female nominations out of 95 finalists – and nowhere on the website does it even raise the issue.

So why does this matter?

  1. Women in construction aren’t daft. In fact, on average women in the sector are bright and ambitious. That’s usually because we haven’t ‘fallen’ into the industry, rather we have worked hard to work to find our place here (if you fell in, had an easy time and are a woman; good for you and long may it continue). But the problem is that our industry asks a lot of site managers – a hell of a lot more than most industries – averages of 60-hour weeks, dangerous environments and not as much respect as we deserve. If we don’t give the bright, ambitious people real opportunities for promotion and progression they might start to think it’s not worth the hassle, no matter how much they love the job. And they might do as I did – check to see if anyone else made it before making the decision to close the door.
  2. Neither are the men. Increasingly the men I talk to in the industry worry about how valued their soft skills are. Many tell me that they feel they have to “toughen up” their approach even where they feel this is detrimental to the job. As one remarked to me earlier this month, it says a lot if women who are renowned for their soft skills don’t even get a look in – what does that say about what we value in construction?
  3. Or the young folk. I don’t need to point out that the industry has an image problem, or that a lot of the things associated with this problem are linked to macho stereotypes. What then do we think is the message we send to our young entrants about the industry when we say “this is the best our industry has to offer” and there is not a single woman in sight?
  4. Or our clients. It just cannot look good to be one of the only industry awards to be so very male dominated – how do we change an image that we insist on reinforcing?
  5. But we might all be. We need to really address these issues. We can’t keep waiting for things to improve, because they haven’t – not in the last 30 years. If we want improvement we need a strategic plan that understands gender, wider equalities, the construction sector at large and the real experience of working on site. Anything without this breadth of knowledge is likely to fall by the wayside.

CIOB, this is a ‘call to action’ – as a female member, I wish I had had your support way back when, but more importantly I want female members in the industry to have it now. So please start now to put something in place that understands and caters for your full membership. Mainstream your processes so they are not gender biased, put in place programmes to help the brightest make it to the top and take time to consider your own bias and presumptions.

I’m not saying CIOB are the worst offenders or that everyone else has their house in order, but I am saying that due to the project-based nature of work in the construction industry, the male dominance in CIOB related areas and the prevalence of the ‘old boys club’ style of promotion and recognition there is currently a gender bias towards men in industry and CIOB needs to take responsibility for the part it plays in this.

It isn’t just that there were no female finalists in the CMYA 2014, there were no female nominations – not one. Whilst our membership of women maybe small at 3.41% it still should have been representative – we should have seen 3.5 women if the system was fair. Even if you only went off of the data for fellows alone, there should have been 1.7 % representation from women within the nominees.

I need to be very clear that I am not talking about giving women credit where it is not due; I am talking about not giving credit where it is. I do not want to see women tokenistically appreciated – I want to see women rewarded for their hard work at the same proportional rate as their male peers, alongside their male peers.

This is not happening.

I believe it is incumbent upon the CIOB to reconsider its practices.

If CIOB do, I think you’ll find we will all become winners.

If you agree, please like, share or comment on this page to show CIOB your support for this issue.

30 thoughts on “An open letter to my institute – 5 reasons why no women finalists in the CIOB CMYA Awards is very bad for the industry

  1. So this blog has generated a lot of comments on twitter, linked in and email. I shall do my best to repost them all here. Thank you so much for your support, we need CIOB to see the importance of this issue and the part they play in it.

  2. A well put together strong and considered piece! While things have changed, and they have, we are far from an acceptable norm. I agree that institutions should show some leadership and maybe change their marking criteria so it’s more inclusive. However, on a meta level there are still serious issues with attracting females in to the industry (and retaining them). Until we have a big step change in this area there will never be a critical mass (at least 60/40) and females will stay under the radar with those who manage to poke through being viewed as tokenism.

    Nova Turner
    Head of L&D
    Premier Guarantee

  3. PJefferis ‏@PJJefferis 20h20 hours ago
    @CChrissi I am genuinely astounded that out of 95 there were no nominations!! Great article though, very well constructed argument.

  4. Pritesh Patel ‏@priteshpatel9 1h1 hour ago
    @SuButcher @theCIOB @CChrissi @ConstructingEq – ah lovely. Good read.

  5. Su Butcher ‏@SuButcher 1h1 hour ago
    . @priteshpatel9 @theCIOB @CChrissi @ConstructingEq yes and an embarrassment to our industry in the21st century #CMYA #whereRTwomen

  6. Saul Townsend ‏@CIOBsaul 1h1 hour ago
    @SuButcher Personal view. #CMYA can only judge those who are entered. Why are employers not putting women forward, that is the question.

  7. I agree in part @CIOBsaul but @theCIOB is a prof. assn. reflects really badly on them AND members don’t you think? @CChrissi #whereRTwomen

  8. Chrissi McCarthy ‏@CChrissi 44m44 minutes ago
    @CIOBsaul @SuButcher But it IS biased. It’s far more appealing to men and the set up means men are more likely to be nominated.

  9. Su Butcher ‏@SuButcher 43m43 minutes ago
    Yes I understand @CIOBsaul but what can be done & how can @theCIOB facilitate it? You must agree its a damning indictment on the profession

  10. Chrissi McCarthy ‏@CChrissi 40m40 minutes ago
    @CIOBsaul @SuButcher clearly there are challenges bigger than CIOB but that’s not a reason to ignore what you have responsibility for

  11. Su Butcher ‏@SuButcher 50m50 minutes ago
    Agreed @CChrissi @CIOBsaul all this effort elsewhere to encourage more women into #STEM tech, architecture. No blame game, just do our bit!

  12. Janet T Beckett ‏@carbonsaveruk 46m46 minutes ago
    @SuButcher @CChrissi @CIOBsaul Not a single female nominee even? That is both depressing & actually astonishing, knowing how hard we try.

  13. Su Butcher ‏@SuButcher 43m43 minutes ago
    I imagine @carbonsaveruk @CChrissi @CIOBsaul that women are put off even considering themselves for nomination. This needs to change #CMYA

  14. Janet T Beckett ‏@carbonsaveruk 38m38 minutes ago
    @SuButcher @CChrissi @CIOBsaul looked at the process,still seems very odd, is this a 1st? Seems we going backwards here, oh dear.

  15. Leonie Thomas ‏@LeonieThomas18 18m18 minutes ago
    @carbonsaveruk @SuButcher @CChrissi @CIOBsaul I think we are going backwards, standing still at the very least.

  16. Su Butcher ‏@SuButcher 46m46 minutes ago
    Yes I understand @CIOBsaul but what can be done & how can @theCIOB facilitate it? You must agree its a damning indictment on the profession

  17. Su Butcher ‏@SuButcher 1h1 hour ago
    I agree in part @CIOBsaul but @theCIOB is a prof. assn. reflects really badly on them AND members don’t you think? @CChrissi #whereRTwomen

  18. Saul Townsend ‏@CIOBsaul 1h1 hour ago
    @SuButcher Personal view. #CMYA can only judge those who are entered. Why are employers not putting women forward, that is the question.

  19. Tracey Proudlock ‏@TraceyProudlock 12m12 minutes ago
    @SuButcher @priteshpatel9 @fairsnape @carbonsaveruk @CChrissi @CIOBsaul Non disabled men cannot keep on designing spaces only 4 themselves

  20. Jackie Casey I think that whilst we don’t want to achieve in an industry because we are female or take roles in which we are not competent. Not taking any action means that nothing will change. We also have to engage our male colleagues and managers on the issue because they need to be interested enough to encourage women to participate. As women in any industry we have to understand the impact of apathy, lack of confidence and the message that it sends to new entrants or any young woman considering entering the industry.

  21. Chrissi McCarthy MCIOB BSc(Hons) PgDip Thanks for commenting Jackie, Whilst I agree that plays a part my worry is that this isnt the issue. The awards require someone else to nominate you which is a problem in itself for women (at least on average more-so than men) and the wording is for application is gender biased. So where women are taking part, undertaking roles etc they are not being put forward by others. This means they dont even get a chance. Its the process I am concerned with her – I appreciate there are other issues at play but that does not mean this one should be ignored, especially when it feeds confidence and ambition or at least beliefs about them. less

  22. Jackie Casey Absolutely agree that this should not be ignored! The process should be addressed and better marketing communications perhaps?

  23. This is an important issue but not just one for the CIOB but for the whole industry. Clearly the Institute can’t bias the competition or manufacture results. It is open to all and the role of the CMYA judges (which includes women) is to judge those who enter and/or are nominated. CMYA is a judgement on competency and capability. Last year two women were awarded a gold and silver medal. I know the CIOB is incredibly dissapointed no women were entered this year but we are reliant upon employers and individuals to take part. Clearly CIOB has an important role to play, but perhaps the question of why no women were entered into CMYA should be aimed at those who employ the workforce. We work incredibly hard with UKCG, Government and others to promote the need for a diverse workforce. No doubt the CIOB will review its processes following this years competition to see where they can improve. I have looked at this years entry form (attached) and can’t see where there is any gender bias.

  24. Saul
    thank you for your swift reply, of course this is an issue for the whole
    industry, but we must also each consider the part we play and the CMYA awards
    are an important reflection of the sector which makes it all the more important
    to ensure they involve all the people within it.

    The bias is less about the actual form itself, clearly it’s a very
    straight forward factual form, its more about the process and how likely people
    might be to nominate women in the first place, the language used to encourage
    people to put themselves forward and the work that women are likely to
    do.

    Its
    great that CIOB get involved in external work, but its more important that CIOB
    looks internally at its own process, procedure and behaviours to see the part
    it plays. Even with a small business I know its easier to tell people how to be
    fair than to implement it; the important work starts at home.

    I must stress its not about tokenism but identifying possible
    bias in order to better reflect the industry. CIOB need to consider if there is
    anything they can do to improve the situation, rather than taking a more
    deterministic stance.

    There
    are some lovely case studies (and academic work but I find the case studies
    easier to get an over view) that explain this further, and could give you some
    good pointers.

    You
    also need to think about the roles women hold in the sector, they can be more likely
    to be a section manager on a larger project than run a smaller job of their own.
    Small changes like allowing sectional work to run alongside smaller jobs could
    help. If this is already accepted than it might be useful to make it clearer.

    Also
    what do the judging panel look like, how did the questions they ask come about?
    Obviously these points are less important in this given situation but its important
    to consider.

    Gender
    mainstreaming can take time to understand, and as ever I am happy to give you
    some pointers and case studies that may help.

    As
    stated I have always seen CIOB CMYA as the best awards in the sector, I whole
    heartedly support the premise, but I do think a review is in order to ask “why don’t
    companies put women forward” and consider that it might be the way you are asking.

  25. Nicola Smith A very eloquent letter. The industry has a long way to go before we see change, however it is within our collective gift to make this happen.

  26. Pippa Higgins
    Well said Chrissi McCarthy MCIOB. I look forward to exchanging ideas with you as part of the Women in Taylor Woodrow initiative.

  27. Tim Fitch Important blog Chrissi. I did some work on a mega project recently looking at the state of collaboration. What was clear to me was the outstanding project leaders were female. UK tier 1 construction is in crisis- see the news of their results recently. Improved inclusivity, particularly gender balance will be an important part of recovery process.

  28. Chrissi McCarthy MCIOB BSc(Hons) PgDip Thank you Pippa and Tim. Tim I agree there is much to be done and understanding that we are under valuing good project management skills because they are not how things have traditionally been done is the first step. Soft skills are woefully under valued at site level, far to often we manage tasks and not people. We need to stop seeing gender and diversity as a a problematic CSR issue and start realising its critical to innovation and improvement.

  29. Thank you Pippa and Tim. Tim I agree there is much to be done and understanding that we are under valuing good project management skills because they are not how things have traditionally been done is the first step. Soft skills are woefully under valued at site level, far to often we manage tasks and not people. We need to stop seeing gender and diversity as a a problematic CSR issue and start realising its critical to innovation and improvement.

  30. Rosalie McCormack ‏@RosalieHarding Oct 24
    @CChrissi #whereRTwomen just read your article very inspiring, hoping to do my dissertation around this type of issue! x

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