Manchester site hoardings slammed as sexist

 

Screen-Shot-2014-11-05-at-07_08_43The Construction Industry Training Board has slammed site hoardings at a new Manchester hotel as “demeaning” to women.

CITB Fairness,Inclusion and Respcet Manager Kate Lloyd condemned the hoarding around the Malmaison site as “depressing and highly insulting”.

Lloyd’s comments follows criticism from writer Jeanette Winterson, who compared pictures of a model holding power tools to those of “soft-porn babes”.

A Malmaison spokesman told the BBC  it was “meant to be a bit of fun”.

But Lloyd said the images on the hoarding “only serve to set us back”.

She added: “The CITB has for years been challenging stereotypes around women in the industry and trying to encourage females of all ages to consider careers in the sector.”

She said 12% of the construction workforce were women, of whom 1% worked in manual trades.

Lloyd said: “We are missing out on a huge range of talent and skills that the industry would benefit from because construction is still largely seen as a ‘job for the boys’”

Winterson wrote in the Guardian about her “outrage” at seeing the “Mal at Work” hoarding, when staying at the city centre hotel last week.

She said: “Women at work seems to mean wearing a strapless dress and full makeup while staring longingly at a drill that presumably doubles as a vibrator.”

A male model also features on the Malmaison hoarding in Manchester

Winterson said: “He’s all muscle and sweat. He’s a hunk, sure, but the visual message he offers is not confusing to men.

“He’s about power and prowess, muscle and machismo. The hard-hat babes send out a message that aligns with male fantasy not female reality. And that’s a problem.”

The spokesman for the hotel chain said it was “meant to be a bit of fun with both men and women depicted to highlight our construction”.

“No offence was meant and we apologise if it’s been taken the wrong way,” he said.

“It’s made a lot of people smile and not too many frown.”

First Published in Construction Enquirer 

Is it harder for people from non-minority backgrounds to understand true discrimination?

Chrissi3-300x202This is a question we were asked in response to some rather misguided comments about discrimination on LinkedIn.

So to be clear – right now I am talking about discrimination towards the protected characteristic groups as detailed in the Equality Act. This is something which I feel has always been best explained by this internet response: –

 

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The point this comment rather brilliantly, but slightly crudely, makes is that if you don’t currently have a protected characteristic it is not likely that you are being held back by anything other than your ability, attitude or life choices. These are, in the most part, things that can affect your ability to do your job and can through study, work choices and self-investment be improved or changed.

If you work in the UK construction sector and are white, British, male, straight, abled-bodied, mentally healthy and 35-45 you are in front – or in first place within the Mario Kart analogy.

Don’t be upset about that – it’s a good thing.

For those who do not fall into this category, other people’s perceptions of ability based upon a protected characteristic could hold them back. E.g.

Age – Too old – can’t handle the work, too young – won’t understand

Race – Not capable due to race, not interested due to race, not able to communicate due to race

Gender – Women are unsuitable for this type of work, women are not capable of working in this environment

Disability – Physical disability would breech Health and Safety, mental disability is a hassle and means they can’t cope

Etc., etc., depressing, etc.

These are some of the politer things we have heard or seen in action. And whilst other people’s opinions can be overcome and we can convince people that we are capable, the point is that being required to prove your ability on the basis of age, gender, race, disability, etc. is not something everyone has to do – it can therefore hold us back.

If you have seen, or felt, this in action it becomes clearer – so, yes, on the one hand I think being representative of a protected characteristic does make it make it easier to understand true discrimination.

However, this is not always the case…

‘Those people’

For some people in protected characteristic groups it can be harder to understand, and for a time in my life I was one of them.

Even though, on reflection, I had faced a lot of discrimination I did not recognise or acknowledge it – the very thought of doing so, I saw as weak.

I thought that if I wanted to work in industry I should put up with the way industry was; I felt that I was a builder first and a woman second. It was only when I got older, and arguably a bit wiser, that I realised by just how far I had missed the point.

You see it didn’t matter what I thought.

It mattered what my bosses thought.

And a lot of them thought I was a novelty, limited, incapable and time constrained because of my gender, not my ability. I know this – because they told me.

I ignored it because I wasn’t THAT type of woman – the type of woman that is affected by these things; the type of woman who can’t handle the job; the type of woman who leaves the industry.

Until, of course, I got fed up of working 60 hours a week without a promotion in sight and carrying an increasingly patronising workload. Then I understood discrimination, and then I left.

So sometimes, I do feel that those from minority groups can find it as difficult to understand discrimination as those from the more privileged side of the fence.

With hindsight, I’d probably say that it’s not harder to understand if you represent a protective characteristic – rather, it is harder to accept it is happening.

What we must all start to understand is that we all gain from diversity – the majority group need not worry about the minority taking their jobs – we know we are again seeing the ugly face of the skills shortage.

We should all recognise now is not the time to tell people they can’t hack it in the sector. Rather, it’s the time for the industry to recognise that not enough people want to hack it anymore. Let’s make sure we can offer everyone a chance to work in the vibrant, challenging industry we know so well, whilst they still want to.

Inappropriate language in construction, what it represents and why that affects the whole of the sector.

Chrissi3-300x202This week we posted a link to a survey carried out by CITB on language in the construction industry which then proceeded to generate a large number of comments for / against and slightly off tangent. Whilst I attempted to address some comments there I felt that I needed the space this blog affords to do it justice. So let’s have a look at the themes that developed over the course of the comments and see how they impact the wider industry.

There are more important issues – for example skills.

This argument doesn’t really hold much water – at what point is there not always something more important, be that skills, late payments, hunger, disease, death…..? This is usually a technique used to undervalue the worth of something which in this case is the way we treat people in construction.

Oddly enough though, in this case – where skills and training were used to display a more important issue – there was a failure to note the link between the two.  Contrary to popular belief, inappropriate language is not something that only affects the group it is aimed at; most people I know are uncomfortable with comments that are racist and sexist, especially in the workplace as they taint everyone in the industry. Additionally these values are increasingly important to those who are being taught in colleges and schools that this is not acceptable. So we must be careful as an industry that we are not putting off the potential talent that benefit most from training within those establishments and would go on to make our lives easier at work ..

“Sorry about the swearing – I know you hate it.”

I don’t. I swear a lot and often without repeating myself. I just know what’s appropriate in the workplace and what’s appropriate down the pub. Every time anyone who knows me reads something like this they laugh and say, “Well they don’t know you then, do they?”

But this is still an important comment – it’s a passive aggressive statement with a subtext of “if you don’t like swearing you’re too delicate to be on site anyway” or, ”if you like swearing how can you agree with these comments?”.

Firstly swearing has nothing to do with my ability to work on site, secondly whilst I do occasionally slip up and swear at work I believe that in a professional work environment people should feel comfortable in the workplace, and not because I’m cute and kind (my staff will point you right on that one), but because I want to keep my best staff – making them feel uncomfortable, intimidated and stressed is a really bad way to do that. The industry as a whole really needs to learn this lesson. 

Whilst the CITB are looking into this most heinous of crimes. Could they explain the current situation regarding the criteria for a construction managers position. Currently everyone on site has to have the relevant CSCS card to prove competence.

“The CITB are the cause of most of it too.”

The CITB are a big organisation, they have a lot of challenges but they also do a lot of good. As a sector, if we are unhappy with them we need to help them improve – attacking them and weakening their position will, at best, only result in the downfall of the grant and levy systems which would be disastrous for industry training and skill levels. – But that’s a blog and a debate for another day and for someone other than us.

“It’s just Banter”

When we deliver training on banter we split it into three areas: –

The good – this is where banter makes everyone happy, people are productive, good to work with, happy and love what the good banter brings to the job. Keep this – it’s amazing!

The bad – so people mess up…a lot. The world is complicated and things change. If someone doesn’t mean to offend and has just been a bit stupid, I think that’s ok – as long as it’s an environment where it’s ok to say “that’s a bit offensive, would you mind not?” You see, if you think it’s ok to make people feel bad at work, the problem is with you not the person you’ve offended. I’ve offended in the past – probably more than I’ve been offended if I’m honest. The trick is in owning it, not making it a problem – just saying “sorry, I’m an eijit, I’ll make you a cuppa.”

The Ugly – this is a lot of what we are seeing here; it’s not banter, it’s power, abuse and bullying. If your jokes need to be based on those in society with less opportunity, firstly, I hate to break it too you but you’re not as funny as you think you are. Secondly, no one should want this in their workplace, it is ugly and it’s unprofessional and it tells the world that we don’t manage people – we bully them.

Trust me on this, we have delivered training on the subject to hundreds of people that work on site and the majority agree that they love banter – just not the ugly stuff. The ones that don’t have a problem with the ugly banter have clearly already used it as a weapon to undermine others.  Let’s not have an industry controlled by that mentality – the majority don’t want it, they just think everyone else does.

“What’s worse – remarks on site, or the glass ceiling?”

For me, remarks on site are not the biggest problem though they are a good indicator. For example, if your car was leaking oil you wouldn’t scrap it – you would be suspicious that it might be part of a bigger problem and you’d fix it before it breaks completely or change it. If we have a sector that sees no problem with sexist and racist remarks what does that mean? Could it be indicative of general attitudes about women, black people or gay people in the sector? Fixing and changing is a long job but we’re on the case.

When I worked in industry I thought it was about me – if I worked hard, if I proved myself, then everything would fall into place – bless my cotton socks. You see, that doesn’t really matter – if my boss does not think women are as capable as men I will always have to work harder to change that view. The problem is women are not rising up through the ranks, more are coming into the sector each year and then leaving – the same for those from black minority ethnic backgrounds. So yes, the glass ceiling is worse; my managers were always a bigger problem with regards to discrimination than the trades on site.

Again this is a complex area where paternalism, power and abuse all play a part ,but we have written about it here in more detail.

“What’s worse site or office?”

The whole industry has challenges from Architecture to Quantity Surveying, from Groundworker to Setting-out engineer. The challenges differ with regards to many factors, including power, position and, even, attractiveness.

An interesting point was made about page three girls preferring site to office environments, but I would point out that this may (or may not) have more to do with class than gender. As a working-class woman I have always felt more at home on site than in an office. Sites are more likely to be home to the people that I grew up with, hung around with and went drinking with. Things have changed as I’ve got older, and I have become comfortable around people across the full social spectrum, but the point remains – as women, we are more than just a woman; someone who is Asian is more than just their culture and a sixty year old is more than their age.  These are not our sole identifying factors or attributes – these things inform parts of who we are but they are not the definition of us, and nor do they mean that we hold the right to speak on behalf of all women, Asian people or sixty year olds.

I’m not surprised by the findings of that CITB research. 61% have heard sexist remarks – how many have stood up and said its wrong? I’d probably agree a lot of it is said in banter, but one persons banter can be offensive to others.

“It doesn’t bother me – or others.”

I liked Sharon’s response to Ian here so I shall let her respond first:

My experience is that women in construction are thick-skinned and deal with the sexist remarks, it doesn’t mean we like it, it doesn’t mean things shouldn’t change, and it is probably a barrier to those less thick-skinned joining the industry. I would say in the office there is bad language, but I have never heard anything homophobic or racist, and it’s very rare to hear anything blatantly sexist. But as I said before it doesn’t mean these prejudices don’t exist, they are just more subtle about it.”

Ian, you have just made a very key point there – the assumption is that if you work in construction you have to put up with sexist remarks. Do you not think that is what puts off 50% of the population from working in the industry? I enjoy my job, I enjoy being involved in the construction of buildings – seeing projects from start to finish, being able to drive passed a building and say I was involved in the construction of that. Why should I have to put up with sexist remarks to be involved with that?

“The research is flawed.”

This I’ll agree with, but I’m not bothered by – the reason being is that it echoes mountains of other published research written on the subject, the assumption being that such a large volume of research can’t all be flawed. I’ve managed to read around 250 published reports (which we have linked to some in the research section of our site) and they all say the same thing if not worse. The AJ also does a study every year which reports similar findings.

“Does it matter?”

But the important point is it does matter. Not the remarks themselves, but what they are an indication of; the general attitude toward people in certain groups is indicative of something bigger and much uglier. Something which is, whether you choose to see it or not, the reason that so many people (men and women, black and white, young and old, gay, straight and bi) no longer want to work in the sector.