I attended the Scotland Build Expo at Glasgow SEC a few weeks ago and sat in on the Women in Construction panel discussion. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised by how busy the hub was, especially compared with the other workshops. The women on the panel were discussing the gender imbalance and inequality currently happening within construction. You don’t have to be a full-blown feminist to be offended by some of the stories that were being shared.
They were discussing how this feeling is represented by seemingly small and simple things such as attending a site and there being no female toilets. Likewise, it can be in the form of a meeting that you are supposed to be tendering, but which consists of your client directing his full attention and conversation towards your male counterpart, completely ignoring you in the process.
The audience were also encouraged to participate and share their own stories and experiences. There was one instance of a female property developer with a vision for a large area of land, but when it came to financing her project, the finance company she approached hummed and hawed before suggesting she use her husband’s name on the application, instead of her own. She rightly retorted by stating she certainly wouldn’t be using that finance company – now or in the future!
The discussion was focused on moving forward and supporting women by encouraging them to speak up and challenge things they don’t agree with, empowering them to ask questions and giving them the confidence to do so.
They all pointed out that the industry was getting better and they could all see positive changes, but also that these issues have not yet been eradicated completely. I was quite shocked listening to the stories being exchanged, especially in this day and age.
Thankfully, I have never personally experienced any form of sexism or noticed a gender imbalance within Worksmart Contracts and have always received the same treatment as my male colleagues. I was curious to find out if any of my peers had experienced any form of gender discrimination but I’m pleased to say none of my Worksmart colleagues had. In fact, they all reported that they had only ever felt encouraged and supported. I was really pleased to hear that, and it made me thankful to work within such an inclusive environment.
Unfortunately, it was a different story when chatting with other people at the Expo! One, a highly successful award-winning site manager, had experienced her fair share of gender imbalance and consistently felt as though she had to prove herself, even to her subordinates. While she admits her age may have played a part (she was only 25), she felt her gender was an issue on several occasions and held her back to begin with.
She had always worked within the construction industry, starting out in the building trade within a merchant as a sales advisor and gaining knowledge of several trades. When the store manager left, she had been hoping to be promoted, as she had already been doing the Deputy Manager’s role for a year. The position, however, was allocated to a male colleague with less experience than her and she felt it was because she was female.
As she completed her qualifications, she landed her first major role of Assistant Site Supervisor for a large commercial company building a new college. She had to deal with many male colleagues far less qualified than her, questioning her almost daily to begin with. On more than one occasion she had to dismiss male colleagues as they weren’t listening to her or following her instructions.
As time went on, she claims things calmed down and she steadily gained their respect. She had pointed out it seems to be a generational thing and that younger male colleagues were far more accepting, whereas it was with the older generation that there were more problems surrounding her gender.
This makes sense to me as with life in general, I feel older generations struggle with change and diversity, whereas the younger generations seem to take it in their stride far easier. It also makes me feel positive about the future for women in construction as people are moving with the times and far more accepting than ever before.
Another issue that was brought to the forefront was the general lack of women within construction. While it wasn’t explicitly said, the undertone was that this bias may be the reason. Personally, I don’t believe this is the case. I think a common misconception is that when you picture construction you see a digger and a construction site. I feel there needs to be more education surrounding all the various jobs within construction and making everyone aware of all the varied roles in the sector. I myself wasn’t aware until I had started with Worksmart and already in the industry!
While all the women I spoke with in construction are there because it interests them and it was something they had always wanted to pursue, these women are still within the minority. I don’t by any means want to force women into a career they don’t want to be in, but I would like it if construction was something more women were drawn to.
The question I came away with from the Expo was how exactly do we, as an industry, make construction more appealing to women?
Kellie Ann Lees