CITB’s new majority women board – our view

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Published: 14.01.2015

This week CITB announced the line-up of its new board and I think it’s fair to say that not many people were expecting 5 of the 8 members to be women, but they are. The biggest points are that it is a surprise, it is unexpected and it is cause for comment…should it really be?

As ever we thought we would offer our perspective on the appointments, what they might mean and the questions they might raise. Did BIS (they made the board selections) get it right? Is this ‘PC’ pandering? What does this mean for the sector?

So let’s grab the proverbial bull by the horns cos I know a few people are thinking it…they told me so.

Is this all just ‘PC’ gone mad; shouldn’t it be the best person for the job?

In that sentence lies the problem itself – the presumption that the women appointed will not be the best person for the job. Even when we have a full board of men we never question their ability based on gender, so why do we do this with women? Is it because they are under-represented in industry? If so, surely those that make it to the top, despite their difference, will be extraordinarily capable. Personally I feel these questions act as a barometer for how far we have progressed; if we are undermining the ability of women simply by their presence in a way that we would not do with men, we have a far way to go.

kath fontana ‏@kathf48  Jan 13Kath Fontana

@CNplus: Women outnumber men on new CITB board http://bit.ly/1y8j55g ” great – looking fw to the day when suchlike will not be ‘news’

 

All the women are from HR – where are the construction women?

To be clear, Dr. Diana Garnham who is CEO, Science Council does not work in HR; rather her background is politics and war studies. That being said I understand the point that none of the women have worked in traditional technical construction jobs, or at least not so I could find on LinkedIn (I’m more than happy to be proven wrong here).

There are a couple of points here – firstly, that the question was not asked of the men – did they have previous roles in construction and if so how construction technical would that role have to be before it was accepted? If you did ask this and looked at the histories of the group members, rather than made an assumption – well done you. If though you presumed MD meant from a technical trade background, I don’t mind saying that is not always the case.

The second point is around what the industry needs; as a woman who worked in construction I do feel that it provides an insight that I would like to be represented on this panel. There is a lot of presumption made about the challenges faced by different groups in construction that varies from the actual experiences of those groups – without that representation, there is a risk that stories won’t be told and lessons won’t be learnt. In saying that, the opportunities for women in technical roles are challenging – this is a fact demonstrated by the lack of women nominated for the 2014 CIOB CMYA awards amongst other things.

I think the focus must be on what the board is trying to achieve, and at the moment where we are recognising that the task-based focus of the industry has led us away from understanding the needs of the people in the sector, it might just be that the HR perspective is needed. Without knowing more about the reasoning behind these decisions it’s hard to answer this point more exactly.

Rob Charlton ‏@spacegroupRob  4h4 hours agoIslington, LondonRob Charlton

“Could CITB not find some women in construction to join the board. The HR thing is still a bit stereotypical.”

 

Why is only gender represented; what about disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.?

Firstly, you don’t know that it isn’t. If you only consider the diversity you can see you’re missing the point somewhat. I’ll agree the board is a touch pale, but that doesn’t in itself mean that ethnic diversity isn’t represented, just that you can’t see it. The same goes for disability, sexual orientation, etc. Also, in a group of 8 it’s hard to represent all things so some leeway must be given.

The reason gender is so important is that a good gender balance has been proven to have noticeable effects on attendance, punctuality, papers read in advance of meetings and reduction of ‘group think’. There is also research that indicates a greater return on investment from mixed gender boards.

What do you think?

Overall, I think this is good news; in the future of course I would like to see women from construction careers on the board, but I also want to see both men and women from non-construction careers represented too – having a viewpoint from outside of the industry pushes us further. If our work only looked at what construction has done historically we would not be able to make the leaps forward that we have. Using research and best practice from outside of the sector and tailoring it to the needs of this industry is an approach that we have found to work well.

I am hopeful that this board will help the industry refocus and better appreciate the needs of the people working within it, and if it takes half the board being from a background in HR to achieve that, then it’s ok by me.

Construction Marketing Awards 2014 Winner

Women in Construction – Parliamentary Event Review

Chrissi3-300x202Last night I had the pleasure of being invited to the Women in Construction parliamentary workshop hosted by Meg Munn MP. The aim of the workshop was to consider some ideas around why there was an under-representation of women in construction and what could be done to improve the situation. So we thought this week we would offer you a review of the workshop and hopefully invite you to add your own thoughts in the comments.

Regular readers will probably have a fair understanding of our position on the topic but for those who are new, firstly hello, secondly…a recap: –

The problem – We feel that women and other minority groups are unfairly represented and treated in industry. This belief is based upon the many papers written specifically about the issue that find two thirds of women identify with being discriminated against in the construction work place.

Why is it a problem? – Although the construction industry is a brilliant sector to work in for many reasons, it’s also a sector with its challenges. We need to step back and consider whether or not, of the 2.5 million people working in the industry, the average white male is happy with their career? In an industry that often expects 70 hour working weeks, bogus self-employment contracts and a high stress environment the answer is not always the yes we might be seeking. So if the average man isn’t happy, what would happen if we added the challenges that face women to that picture? Would you accept unfavourable working conditions and discrimination? It’s a lot to ask. I’ll work 70 hours a week if you promote me –  I’m likely to just get frustrated if you don’t.

Why does it happen? – The reasons the average person is unhappy are systemic, and we need to take a wider view to change these – they include challenges such as late payment terms, suicide bidding and increasingly tight programmes.

The bigger problem is that these factors have a knock-on effect on discrimination. Research shows us that when we are happy and secure in our workplace we are more likely to act in an inclusive and equal way. When we are scared and concerned for our job security we are more likely to segregate and be prejudicial.

What might make it worse? – So if we are in a situation where people are worried about their jobs and you introduce a programme that appears to be giving one group an advantage over another, three guesses as to how that might turn out?

The solution – You need to establish a base level of fairness, inclusion and respect within your organisation. Only once your staff feel safe and have a positive attitude to equality (as they don’t see it as a threat to their own position) can you then start to implement positive action programmes. The CITB Be Fair framework was created to do just this, so that’s an easy win. Especially when you consider that the things you need to do in order to foster positive attitudes to equality also increase employee engagement (or organisational citizenship behaviour, as some of the text books are fond of saying).

Back to the workshop – it was introduced by Meg Munn, who unlike some of the politicians I have seen straddle this particular pony over the years seemed to have a real interest and passion in, not only talking about, but making some positive change regarding women, in the construction workplace and across the workforce in general. Her opening remarks were humorous and meaningful and it was good to see such support for the sector.

Next up was Simon Carr, the Managing Director of Henry Boot which is a company we have seen before in the equality arena. It was good to hear him share his best practice regarding the work undertaken and more importantly the value that leaders in the organisation placed upon it. It’s not many companies that field an MD at a diversity event so, kudos.

Judy Lowe, the Deputy Chair of CITB then gave her comments regarding the situation, focusing on the importance of the retention of women and the need to address this through fairness, inclusion and respect. She was kind enough to credit our paper alongside other academic work and so, of course, we are a little biased in our opinion, but we felt that she made important points that reflected the situation of many women in the sector.

Then to the round table groups; four groups in the room were tasked with addressing why women didn’t feel supported in the sector and how this could be moved forward. I don’t want to spoil the surprise as I know that a compilation of these is being worked upon, but overall many common themes were identified that it’s about leadership, having something to sign up to, supporting women, recognising the experience of women, appreciating working hours and many more – too many to list here.

Meg then summed up the points and to our surprise (and, of course, delight) mentioned the CITB Be Fair framework as a possible solution to these challenges.

Overall I felt the evening did a good job in bringing these issues to light. It could be said that the points raised have been established in research, both inside and outside of the sector, but that would be missing the point somewhat. The main thing is not that we are discovering new information, but rather that we were sharing it; and that information was not coming from one lone source but a number of sources independently. This I find is much more powerful and influential to those making decisions in industry than academic research, no matter how firmly academic research establishes the facts it presents.

Now we must focus on what comes next, which is taking this momentum and translating it into something that is practical and purposeful for the sector. Judy Lowe quoted me as saying that “over 20 years of initiatives have failed to make any impact on the number of women in the sector” – here we have a real opportunity to change that and I have a strong belief that if we continue to work together to increase our knowledge and share our findings, we will find ourselves not only with more women in the sector, but with more talent overall wanting to work in an industry that we are proud to work in.

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.

What do women have to gain by going into the construction industry instead of another industry that is already accommodating to her needs?

Quite a lot actually,

Firstly the pay is higher. As we mentioned before, the jobs dominated by women are the lowest paid but those in more male-dominated sectors come with a higher financial reward. It‘s not without risk, as we mentioned in one of our earlier posts, but from a salary perspective there is a lot to be gained.

Second, is the opportunity to progress; there are still options to climb through the ranks with day-release, apprenticeship and academic routes available. Whilst the recession is off-putting to those entering university now, they should be coming out of university just as the industry recovers, which means a good chance that they will secure a role.

Individuality; being able to do something you enjoy is an important factor when making decisions for your life. I tried other gender-traditional roles before construction but none of them gave me the sense of fulfillment that this industry has. Being able to work in a role that you enjoy is a priceless and rewarding experience and should not be undervalued. That being said make sure you are prepared for what you might encounter, plan your career and make sure your employers know about it and are on board to help you achieve your ambitions.

I strongly believe that employers do want to help foster and grow their female talent; they are just not always sure of the right way to go about it. So, ask questions, seek advice, form networks, plan your career, seek out appropriate training and form networks (not a typo, it really is that important).

Want to read more on the subject women in construction? The following previous Constructing Equality Ltd. blogs are also very interesting and topical: