Women in Construction Summit London 2019

Back in May, we sent our very own Kellie Ann down to London to the Women in Construction Summit. Here, she writes about her experience at the event, and speaks about the issues that were up for discussion. 

I attended the Women in Construction Summit on the 16th May at the Olympia, London. This summit was a real buzz of women and men coming together to discuss issues currently facing people in construction. The event was focused on how different companies and organisations want to repaint the industry and resolve key issues, as well as focusing on eliminating any diversity issues going forward.

I found it really interesting listening to the various speakers as they would give us examples of things they had come across during their own careers and how they had dealt with it. Sarah Beale from CITB was there discussing the problems she faced while she was CITB’s youngest ever CEO. People would frequently overlook her in the assumption that she couldn’t possibly be the CEO of the company, being that she was not only young, but also a woman.

Barbara Res was also there discussing how times are changing in construction for women, but not fast enough. As she was the head of construction for Trump Towers back in the 1970s, she has seen it all and can speak honestly about what she has experienced during her career. The evolution of construction was discussed, and it was pointed out that it is moving very slowly.

The percentage of women in construction has remained the same since the 1970s. Another topic of the day was that the construction industry employs such a diverse group of individuals already, and 30% of the workforce are foreigners. With Brexit around the corner this was highlighted, and it was predicted that there could be a significant impact to the construction industry leading to shortages.

A big focus of the day was flexible working hours. Being a male dominant field in the past, this hadn’t been too much of an issue. Now, however, with more and more women entering the construction industry and a rise in the amount of men taking more time to be with their families, it is now being acknowledged that the construction industry needs to rethink its position on flexible working hours. The goal is to change the current norm and have a system that works for both workplaces and employees.

Everyone at the seminar was on board with this and some companies gave examples of the measures they are already putting in place. Most have the same idea of ‘core hours’ in which everyone needs to be at their place of work, but the hours out with these can be worked to make their contracted hours as they please. Many have said this works well and allows for things such as doctors and dentist appointments as well as family commitments and child care.

The onus on was being put on the companies to make flexible working hours happen. For women, changing maternity pay was also discussed. Many of the bigger construction companies offer 3-6 months full pay whilst on maternity leave. This was also mentioned as a selling point for women considering a career in construction, as starting a family can often threaten to derail a career.

Being a seminar focused on diversity, it was also highlighted that different religions and cultures need to be taken into consideration. An example was given of a Hindu employee who needed a week off to celebrate Diwali, rather than the time he was given off over the Christmas period. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day and can only eat when the sun is down. One company has already incorporated this into its guidelines and has allocated special areas praying.

Another important issue relating to diversity was raised during the conference that struck me. Someone suggested that while everyone has day-to-day problems they must deal with, people from minority groups may face more challenges or oppression than most. It was recommended that everyone keep mindful of things like this, in order to ensure a happier and more accepting workplace.

The whole thing was positive and inspiring and challenged companies to think of ways of bringing everyone together. Family open days seemed to be a popular thing and had already been hailed a success from several companies attending. I think implementing flexible working hours would be such an investment for companies as in this day and age, everyone has commitments outside of work and with mental health being highly focused on, maintaining a healthy work/life balance is so important.

— Kellie Ann Bryden