Our volunteer bloggers have agreed to write about their journey through our year of the MPA Gender Balance Initiative. They will attend events and write blogs in response to what they learn, how it makes them feel and how they think they might behave differently in future. Scroll down to read what they thought of our recent events.
Gender Balance - the retention and promotion challenge Held on:
13th July 2016
Transport Strategy Manager
Of all the MPA GBI events this was the one I had been waiting for, finally talking about retention and promotion, deepening the understanding of what these frequently used words actually mean.
The event began with a stark reminder from the Chair, HS2’s Mark Lomas; that our sector is failing to deliver the best people and also failing to keep them. We simply need more people and if we do not look outside of the usual recruitment/talent pooling channels and broaden our recruitment, retention and promotion strategies we will not achieve in number, let alone diversity, with detrimental impacts on our major projects. Mark suggested an industry equivalent of the Sports Council ‘This Girl Can’ campaign which I think is a fantastic idea to redefine industry image.
I know my organisation is changing its recruitment practices and setting high expectations of supply chain, and I’m excited to be involved in our Get on Board initiative to attract women who are outside of the usual recruitment channels. We even hold our Executive team to account with pay related Equality, Diversity and Inclusion objectives, however while these are positive actions, they need to be multiplied across the industry. Even then it will still take time to shape the future.
We heard that flexible working is widely being adopted in various forms, but usually informally. That’s ok if there is enough trust between individuals and this places importance on Line Managers, the change holders and culture promoters of every organisation. These are the key stakeholders to build buy in for change and also to understand staff potential, aiding all aspects of training, development, retention, and promotion of staff.
I mentioned in the event Q&A that the ‘Part Time’ label personally scares me. This is because I already feel labelled enough and I think it concerns me that my career pace could slow if I somehow ‘fail’ to keep up with the traditional ‘Full Time’ job and consequently cannot compete with my peers. There are many successful men and women with part time careers that prove me wrong thankfully, but perhaps this is why I’ve never been brave enough to pitch a 9 day fortnight to my management and HR teams when ironically I’ve presented on the efficiencies and benefits of it to many others.
We need many more clear demonstrations of the benefits of both Part Time and flexible working in business retention and career development. We heard there are twice as many women working 2+ jobs to make up a Full Time wage and also twice as many women working below their skills level so we need to capture this hard working market and utilise them. Working parents in a situation where Government childcare funding begins at age 3 but under 2’s care can command upwards of £70 per day. We must create opportunities to enable women to return to work sooner and as an industry provide flexible roles that meet business needs for both men and women. Perhaps then we can make career development and retention attractive enough to either work around childcare or meet these huge childcare costs.
The stark findings of Dr Meryl Bushell’s PhD on what makes a quality network was however less than comforting. The extent to which male and female approaches to networking and career development differed was astounding. It confirmed that the ‘boys club’ is indeed still a huge factor if you’re wanting to achieve Boardroom level roles and demonstrated how difficult it can be to get onto Boardex in order to do so. Meryl also offered an array positive information too and I am putting some of her recommendations to the test.
I’m a firm believer in driving forward and taking responsibility for your own career, so I’m enthused by the length and wide variety of discussion this event brought about. I do want to hear a continued dialogue on establishing best practice in retention and promotion and, touching on the debate held towards the end of this event, on targets. I’ve always been fundamentally against quota’s and I remain so as I want to progress for my aptitude, not to be a number. However, targets are and should be quite different, as we need to measure progress and monitor the actions we take as whole organisations, including our male majorities and by measuring our activities. To move our industry forward to achieve the major projects current and future order book, we must establish what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, as this is my last event blog, I would like to add a huge thank you to the MPA team, particularly Manon Bradley, for enabling me to be a voice on these issues. Also thank you to all my fellow bloggers and to all of you reading these blogs.
I am inspired and encouraged by the work MPA is doing, as I hope you are, and I cannot wait to see the impacts we can all make by enabling and facilitating positive change in our industry.
Graduate Civil Engineer
Transport for London
So this time we have an all-day event. I took the morning shift and my fellow “male blogger”, Aaron, the afternoon.
First Mark Lomas talked about EDI, Equality, diversity and Inclusion. The main thrust of the talk was, there is a skills gap particularly in rail and engineering, we need more people taking up these careers. There is a largely un-tapped resource of skilled women who are choosing careers in other industries. EDI is HS2’s solution. Men need not be afraid because this is about getting more people in overall! This is particularly important in the supply chain where the EDI submission accounts for 20% of the invitation to tender and suppliers are winning contracts by as little as 4%. I found it interesting that Mark said the top 10 companies for the employment of Women are banks and services. I’m not surprised to be honest and talking to some other grads on the day I don’t think this is an exclusively female problem. The fact is those who complete engineering degrees are highly able and numerate. When I graduated plenty of my cohort went to banking the main reason being it pays better!
The talk I enjoyed the most was that on the gender pay gap with Dr Alison Parken of Cardiff University. It was good to hear from a person who is carrying out the research and understands it. The message I came home with is the reason for the pay gap is mostly structural. One of the most acute structural problems is part time work. Industry in general assumes women want part time work. It is true that a woman is more likely to want to work part time at some point in her life, however, unsurprisingly, at other points she would prefer to work full time. The difficulty is movement between the two. Once in part time work we were told you are no longer on the career ladder. You are less likely to get the experience you need to progress. This is reflected in 50% of women in low to middle skill jobs working under their qualifications in the public sector. To hammer the point that women often do want full time work is the fact they tend to be working 2 or 3 jobs to make up the hours.
This leads into the slightly perverse reality where part time women are cheap labour. Whether they be office workers taking out of hours emails and phone calls. Or low graded work such as caring and cleaning, which the public sector relies on for 99% of these roles. I could go on and on with the statistics (which I do enjoy!) but I think there is a clear enough picture. Women in low skilled jobs get a particularly poor deal, and skilled women even if they start on par with men will often get trapped by part time work. This talk sparked some interesting discussions. I haven’t really mentioned the male side of this, but long story short is men realise within the current structure part time work represents career death hence steer clear. However, most people had positive things to say about men being more attracted to part time/casual/flexible work wanting to spend more time with their kids or to take care of elderly relatives. This seems somewhat unfair (that the decision is easier for men) but has the potential to benefit everybody. I think for my part there is a definite priority shift with the younger generations with many men wanting to be more involved with family life and wanting to work less.
After Alison’s talk we moved on to Siân Thomas from Tideway. What I found interesting with this talk was the implementation of paid internships for experienced women to get back into work. This seems to me a genuinely positive step to getting women who have taken time out to get back onto the career ladder and at a point that is at their experience and skill level. This could be part of the solution for overcoming the part time trap. I found it a bit odd however that in the main set of targets there was nothing on gender. I did however like the community focus and the target of employing ex-offenders. I think this is an important side issue.
Overall a really great event.
Graduate Civil Engineer
Transport for London
The first set of talks began with Keela Schakell-Smith. “If you have time to moan, you have time to do something” I thought this is quite powerful for more than just gender equality! Keela talked about the drive for women staff networks to turn moaning into action. She fantastically introduced the idea of men to be involved in these groups as we are 50% of the issue and instrumental in changing the system. Dr Meryl Bushell followed by speaking about how women need to look at how men promote themselves, through networking, close friendship circles and a larger acquaintance group and utilise these skills themselves. I began to question, whether this was “how to use men-skills to get ahead?” However Dr Meryl concluded by saying that women becoming men is not diversity, instead when playing a weighted game, any hints and guidance is good.
The final stage of the day was a discussion topic, “change the system or change the woman”. To be honest I thought the title was a bit of a no brainer, and unsurprisingly all three panellists were for women and men changing the system. I did consider if it would have been a more interesting discussion if we could have discussed “change the system or the men” as clearly the system was created and is still to some extent run by the “man”.
We began by discussing the differences between men and women. Chris Davidson promoted that men are data heavy communicators, where else women are meaning communicators. Which I think links effectively to point made on major projects, that they “don’t fail on technical details, they fail on communication”. I found it interesting that the skills we traditionally believe women poor at such as spatial awareness, can be overcome with 10 hours of video games. Whilst what we consider soft skills are becoming increasingly more valuable than what is perceived as “hard”. Chris concluded by saying that changing women is unsustainable. The discussion then turned to what an average men would gain from having more women in the workforce. This is not something I have thought about before. Is there a part of us fearing for our jobs that knows women will change the culture we work in? I think inside, a small voice says yes. But a larger voice knows it would be a more inclusive and fair environment. The debate concluded with the system needing to be changed and shaped by both men and women for a day where we don’t need to discuss gender inequalities.
At lunch last week, a friend asked me how attending the gender balance initiative had changed me. More than all the brilliant data analysis and discussion topics, one idea has definitely changed the way I look at gender inequality. “Privilege is invisible to those that have it”. I came into these talks unaware of a whole range of issues my industry faces and just because have been privileged enough to not experience these problems, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Unconscious Bias - how to understand and challenge it Held on:
3rd June 2016
Transport Strategy Manager
Admitting we have ingrained prejudices is not a comfortable confession but it is something we all inherently have and it is now becoming more widely acknowledged and embraced.
Richard Chapman-Harris made us all focus on the ‘uncomfortable’ and the ‘not politically correct’ at this event, discussing the explicit and implicit biases we hold for controversial issues such as racism, sexism, those with disabilities and many other prejudices. The emphasis was really on understanding your own biases, not necessarily having to share them but having the confidence to accept and challenge yourself. In turn, by tackling the majority, rather than minority groups, cultural change should emerge. The key word being ‘majority’ means focusing on the masses and not educating/enabling those already attuned.
It was stated that training alone is not enough so it was great to hear of developments into reverse mentoring and even one to one coaching. However, some businesses have not yet embraced training so whilst this increased awareness and action is great, it does need to be more widespread to effect change. The incentives behind increasing unconscious bias were not just about morals, it was about understanding client needs and fulfilling resourcing needs; both important business impacts. One great example was recruitment being a ‘hotspot’ for unconscious bias and you can’t help to wonder what impact reducing unconscious biases in this area would do for work force diversity.
There are of course those who do not want to acknowledge their biases and will continue to stifle the great impacts that could be had. The great thing about tackling the majority is that the confidence of those empowered may well outnumber and even inadvertently challenge their behaviour.
There was also some personal recognition of issues for many of us at this event. I’m from an East London background and I could certainly relate to another member of the group who described the racism that existed following 1950’s immigration to London. It’s something I grew up knowing about from a very young age and possibly is part of how I learnt to challenge behaviours quickly. By the time I reached secondary school I was one of only three white girls in my class of 30 girls which was great. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been immersed in such a widely diverse group. It gave me a wonderful understanding of cultural differences, acceptance and, actually what inclusion is really like as it was just normal school/local life for us all.
Fast forward to my professional working life and I continue to firmly believe in inclusivity, so was disappointed to hear that Black and Minority Ethnic men and women develop their careers better internationally than in the UK. I grew up around people of many ethnicities with great potential. With huge skills shortages in the UK, so how is this possible? Having spent my career in male dominated environments, my focus has been on reducing gender bias more than anything else but perhaps I need to widen my understanding.
No male blog available
Gender Balance - 3 things that work Held on:
25th May 2016
Package Procurement Manager
51% of women leave jobs due to lack of flexibility (Society of Women Engineers) and their valuable expertise is subsequently lost from industries, which if they are anything like the rail industry, are looking to attract and retain more talented people, not lose them.
I work in an office where we have a number of people who do compressed hours and flexible working (including patterns of many kinds), and remote working is encouraged with many teams using a day a week to work from home.
I wasn’t aware that this was an unusual approach, but as the discussion developed during the event I began to wonder if perhaps I was wrong. Research has shown that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Sue Whalley discussed how for Royal Mail growing diversity was a strategic decision that was taken in order to increase innovation, reduce costs and be better representative of the communities in which Royal Mail work. It makes sense to me therefore that, in order to attract diverse talent, companies themselves must be flexible and accommodating in their approach.
So why would a company be hesitant to be flexible in its approach? The word "trust" was used during our discussion, and for me this is key. Traditionally people have been expected to be seen in the office in order to be doing their job well. I have previously been in an office environment where, if anyone left before 5pm, colleagues would consult their watches, glance at each other and then proceed to make a comment about it being a half day or something similar. It is this 9-5 mind-set which companies must try to steer away from; trusting employees to be able to do their job without being under the eyes of big brother is essential.
In our role as a client we also have to set an example. All too frequently we ask for work to be completed within unrealistic timescales and have expectations of employees to be contactable 24/7. If someone stays in the office for hours on end then they are often congratulated for working really hard. However, working hard isn’t always working clever or effectively. With modern-day technology we don’t need to be in the office all of the time: Blackberries, iPhones, laptops and tablets mean that being contactable remotely is easier than ever.
My organisation has a Directorate called Organisational Effectiveness and Change, the aim of which is to help us to “adapt and improve over time”. I believe the aim is reflective of the industry in two ways: one is the acknowledgement that we need to ‘adapt’ to meet the requirements of the workforce; and secondly is the understanding that it won’t happen overnight. This is a long-term aspiration and we are at the beginning of the journey. Requirements will change, and subsequently so will the approach.
If companies want to keep and attract the best talent they must be open to working in different ways. Concurrently employees must understand that they need to attend face-to-face meetings at which their presence is essential. As with most things in life, it must be a two-way process. Sue Whalley captured it perfectly when she said "you can’t write this down in a policy"; it is just about working together to make it a win-win situation.
No male blog available
Gender pay gap reporting - what does this mean? Held on:
9th March 2016
Transport Strategy Manager
The case behind this legislation was not for the faint hearted or easily offended. The difference in gross hourly pay between men and women is a staggering 19.1% according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), or 80p for every £1. In reality, it is a huge inconsistency equating to four days of pre-school childcare per month, a weekend away each month, a shorter mortgage, pension savings… etc.
Clearly, the 4th of November should not be the equivalent ‘Year End’ of pay for women and it is not acceptable that the pay gap increases (and even doubles) as women get older (as much as 38% age 60+, according to the Chartered Management Institute). Bonuses are even said to be up to 57% lower, made worse by the fact that many women affected by a ‘gap’ do not query the taboo subject of pay and therefore work in complete ignorance of it. Although it’s fair to say men working in female majority industries may do exactly the same.
More staggering is the fact that equal pay laws began 46 years ago in the UK and despite that, wide scale acceptance of lower paid female majority work such as childcare and nursing still prevails (notably these are ‘caring’ roles). There is also the dampening of more prestigious roles when women do make progress, as seen in the glaring national acceptance of unequal pay for our - strictly speaking - more successful women’s England football team.
The key message for businesses is to ‘act now’, to use April 2016 data as a snapshot to practise on before using 2017 data for publishing in 2018. Surely this is also an opportune time to set out gap narrowing initiatives and dispel uncertainties among workers if they are in fact already equally paid. Well why wait until 2018 if it is good news?
In any case, why wait at all? Even if it’s not good news, this new transparency will drive competitive change in a way that 46 years of policy has not. The data to be published requires high level ownership so for example, any gap derived from low numbers of women at senior levels will need narrowing measures in order to maintain a competitive edge. That ought to bring about a wider cultural shift, so the advice of ‘act now’ is really an opportunity for implementing changes, not just planning them. Benefits package assessments, renewed leave policies, and measures to address any plateau of women in low-mid levels (help senior progression) can all be actioned now.
The proposed legislation does lack a penalty for not publishing data, but the Government ‘naming and shaming’ league tables and competitiveness is bound to discourage non-conformity. Other exclusions such as the absence of public sector data and salary sacrifice are difficult to trust in too. The public sector employs huge numbers of women who will not be represented in the data and the exclusion of increasingly popular salary sacrifice may give rise to a new segment of bonus culture (as salary sacrifice can make up a significant proportion of a salary).
The wider issues alluded to cannot be easily ‘fixed’ and there will continue to be legislative loopholes that will perforate trust in published figures. That said, there are no excuses to pay women less, so I hope publishing data will redress this. In turn, it could also prove we are more equal than we think!
Graduate Civil Engineer
Transport for London
So this is the first time for me writing a blog, I’m filling in for Aaron. I had a bit of a read through the blogs before I went to get a feel of what I might be in for. I wasn’t really sure what to expect!
Straight off the bat, Manon hits us with various statistics about how women are undervalued and underpaid both in industry and even at home with boys being paid on average 15% more pocket money than girls. The way I see it this is all about statistics: there are all sorts of figures which point to the fact that women are on average paid less than men. However different sets of data don’t always agree. One such discrepancy during the talk was whether there is a gender pay gap before the age of 40: Manon’s statistics said yes, Charles’s no. It is often these sorts of apparent inconsistencies which allow the so called gender gap deniers to exist. Hopefully gender pay gap reporting will provide stronger and more reliable evidence of what we already know.
So, why does the gender pay gap exist? The usual suspects: losing women from the workplace when they have a family, women working more part time, and plain old sex discrimination with women being paid less than men for the same roles. I felt this brought up some interesting discussions about biases that exist. One such example, the word “secretary” has clear connotations of being a female role and is also less respected than say a clerk or administrator. Some of the women present had experienced being put forward for roles with “secretary” in the name and told that they should feel privileged. I struggle to see that happening to a man.
There were further discussions when it came to what the potential solutions are. The group generally agreed that having genuine buy-in from senior management is paramount. Moreover to help close the gap for the over 40’s there certainly needs to be women in these senior positions. To help this happen there needs to be better provisions for maternity leave and the possibility for part-time work in senior positions. It was at this point I chose to interject (in typical male fashion): should men not also be incentivised to take on more childcare with increased paternity and part-time work? This brought up an interesting point. Although in principle this could be beneficial it can again end up benefiting men more than women in that men are seen as heroes for taking time off for caring for their children, whereas women feel more reluctant to take the time off, and the childcare aspect is a cultural expectation.
At the end of the talk we were all asked whether we felt like this would make a difference. My impression was the overall mood was not very hopeful; and I can see why. Even with this change it is still predicted that parity of pay is unlikely to occur within our lifetimes. Furthermore, although the reporting is supposed to be compulsory there are no financial penalties for failing to deliver. The person sat next to me alluded to the fact that the data being asked for is too basic with many potential loop holes. I don’t mean to sound overly negative, perhaps it is just the engineer in me, but it would be good to have more rigorous information from which pertinent and nuanced conclusions can be drawn. Hopefully, as Charles said, companies will want to provide extra data to explain their gender pay gap.
Understanding your starting point - how to improve Gender Balance Held on:
1st February 2016
Transport Strategy Manager
‘If your bid team is not balanced, then you are less competitive’. This is the client feedback that led one organisation to make substantial changes, demonstrating that the starting point is much more than identifying numbers and a baseline. In turn, I hope this may help to overcome the initial barrier of acceptance; that poor gender balance is a disadvantage to business.
The extensive data set presented at this event confirmed that the industries needing change the most are the most difficult. The number of women undertaking Engineering degrees remained at 14% four years in a row (2012-2015). In Law, attrition of women between entry and Partner levels is a huge 40%, and only 4,000 of 56,000 STEM apprenticeships are taken up by women. It was consistent in justifying the need for change, but it also made it clear that problem lies in the key foundations for business, our wider culture and education system.
As Keith Purves said ‘how can we expect to see change in employment… when there is (little or) no change in education’. At this point I must admit I dread encountering teachers who do not have experience of industry, but will be dominant in my child’s ‘worldly’ education. The need to educate the educators to industry needs is hugely important, as is removing workplace stigma’s to those ‘without a degree’ or those ‘without the right degree’.
If we focus on engineering, opportunities to transfer skills to Engineering from other fields are almost unheard of. Fast forward ten years without change and engineering is limited to 14%, but realistically far less if industry culture and the ‘leaking pipeline’ are considered. The engineering starting point must therefore be both number and culture driven.
Universities and Employers are both widening entry requirements for courses and entry level roles which is encouraging, but not enough to create a workforce to match future demand. Major projects often hinge on engineering and law, and many of us have 15-20 years of education followed by a career of 40+ years. To serve our projects well we need to adapt through project lifecycles. Enabling diversified career movements and learning opportunities throughout our careers is a must.
I heard ‘it’s an industry issue’ several times, particularly when discussing industry culture, and I think we should be wary of that becoming our excuse. The WISE 10 Steps commitment is growing apace and we heard positive results from Thales and Mace on changes they are implementing right now. We need more pioneers to increase the momentum and develop best practice.
The current reality for women in Major Projects was summed up well by Suzy Firkin when she said that ‘Women cannot have the career they want in business so they walk away’. I have seen this first hand and I understand being ‘tired of the fight’ but it’s obvious to me that improvements come from engaging everyone, men and women alike. We need a starting point and objectives that give us all a role in challenging and resetting industry cultures and working practices to what suits modern life best. It’s not a women’s issue, but perhaps by failing to engage the male majority in gender balance and work life balance activities at the start, we inadvertently reinforce that perception.
Graduate Civil Engineer
Transport for London
My second event as ICE President's Apprentice and male blogger to the MPA Gender Balance initiative was completely different to the first. Instead of a general discussion we were hit with hard data about our industries inequalities. This was followed by an internal look at our own companies, which promoted the question for the evening. How are we to improve gender balance?
Keith Purves, the second speaker really drove home the figures on the subject. Only 14% of STEM jobs (excluding health care) are held by women. Only 8.2 % of engineering professionals are women. The most interesting graph to me was where figures from 2012 and 2015 were compared. Science professionals had increased by 10% and Building professionals had increased by 15%. However with all our successes the point remained that only 3% of engineering apprenticeships were being held by women, rising to only 3.8% in two years. With the massive government focus on apprenticeships, why are these numbers so poor? Without collecting and analysing data on this subject we could not hope to improve our industry. If we do this on construction projects, with KPIs, why aren't we doing this in the industry?
Now that the room’s mathematical minds had been sated with figures, the evening began to take on a more introspective approach. Given the ‘Ten steps Diagnostics tool’, Directors and managers around me had to evaluate their company’s gender bias. After we had completed our questionnaires, I asked the person sitting next to me what score he got. Whether he had just received a really poor score or was worried that I would blog about it, he never told me. Looking at the questions I was sure my company was achieving flying colours, but I did have to check.
Flexible working was a topic that was returned to throughout the evening. The lack of it in modern workplaces was attributed to the ‘leakage’ of female talent at manager levels. My male boss works from home once a week to care for his new-born girl. With modern technology he is a click or phone away if I need him. Because we have a shortage of CAD spaces at our office, his flexible working allows a less crowded office and a smaller company carbon footprint. I believe this event has shown me that if you want to bring about change, collecting data is integral to developing a comprehensive strategy.
I will begin looking for my next internal graduate placement this month. As I look at different departments and projects that I could be working for the biggest and most exciting projects will naturally catch my attention. But maybe I'll need to stop and ask myself, is this a team that's equally represented. Are they trying to improve gender balance, and what is my role in all this?
How to achieve better Gender Balance in Major Projects Held on:
5th November 2015
Graduate Civil Engineer
Transport for London
Can you think of a situation when men are the gender minority in a construction setting? Manon Bradley invited me as one of ICE Presidents Apprentices to blog about my experiences at a MPA event asking whether men and women were equal or different. I was one of a handful of men of the event and clearly the least senior. The first session asked, ‘How do we achieve better Gender Balance in Major Projects?’ To me it is a question that has three parts. Should we try to get more girls in engineering? Why do we need gender balance? And have I been propagating this gender inequality I had barely thought about?
As a British Asian I like to think I am colour blind in my professional life, but was I gender blind as well? At university everyone knew being in a group with a girl ensured that your team wouldn’t slack. Having female friends was essential to know what books needed to be taken out, what subjects needed to be researched and eventually note copying when you realise your illegible scrawl isn’t getting you anywhere. Working with the ICE on the #thisiscivilengineering campaign it is easy to see construction as having an image issue and came up frequently in the discussion. Branding engineers as people who improve the lives of people will do wonders in attracting women to the profession.
So if it wasn’t obvious enough that gender equal teams perform better statistically, the MPA delivered some excellent numbers for my engineering mind to absorb. Men will apply to a job if they meet 50% of the criteria and women only if they meet 90%. I smiled with a pride in my ability to blag my way in the past. But the discussion slowly made me begin to realise that this maybe what wasn’t best for the industry. Brash decision makers who make up for knowledge with confidence are not who we want running our major projects. I have been part of site meetings where a little more calm and thought would have saved a lot of time and money.
So now I had to ask myself, was I sexist, a guilty bystander of rampant gender inequality? During the discussion part of the evening we were treated to the worst stories of sexism in the industry. Everybody had an awful story about being overlooked, abused or ignored. The stories were extremely depressing. At the end of the event Manon championed a ‘this is everyday construction sexism’ forum and it made my man heart sink. Studded within the sexist stories were moments when the MPA members spoke of motivational managers and respectful construction sites. Gender inequality is an issue for men and women and for a holistic story we need both the positives and the negatives. The MPA has forced me to ask hard questions about what it is to be a male in the construction industry and how I can build a more gender balanced environment.
Transport Strategy Manager
When I was asked to write this blog I was excited but also a little wary of being “labelled”. You see, I don’t label myself as anything other than a “juggler” and that is only in jest (we’ll get to that). I believe we should avoid our natural inclination to label people as it often casts assumption above fact. In any case it seems to be more “”fashionable” to discuss gender balance nowadays. Well “it is 2015” as Justin Trudeau recently reminded us with his gender balanced Canadian Cabinet. So I should be comfortable, right?!
To change our industry we need help so it’s awesome and inspiring that the MPA are paving the way for change. This event was a great start, not least because of the strong and successful panel of women, but because the audience included a good number of men and the messages were clear.
This is not a “women’s” issue.
There are opportunities for change and business improvement, and at very little or no cost.
Positive change equals increased business earnings and benefits.
To me, there were also some more personal messages. In particular, Anna Stewart said it is hard to have a big career and a family and that it is not without compromise. This is true, but a career should be worth it. I wouldn’t say I have a big career yet (and I think that makes it harder still) but I’m a “juggler” I work hard and my family make me more ambitious, not less. I strive to be a good example and role model and there is compromise, but not what you might think. I once took advice from an astounding professional who said in a presentation of her own, “Get Help! Dog walking, ironing, cleaning, childcare, do what you need to do”. I’ve followed her advice, but in small everyday steps (I haven’t got the dog walker or cleaner yet – one day - but I have a child who thrives at nursery and on occasion I happily ship out the ironing).
Effecting positive change for me as I attempt to “have it all” means that we need to understand these everyday issues, not just the big issues like skills shortages and gender pay gaps. We can all do more to dispel commonplace discrimination, the random comments, the assumptions (e.g. the lady at the end of the desks equals photocopier). To re-balance our industry we need to continually improve skills and exposure for women already in our businesses (to help them compete). This means more sponsorship, more training, and not just at graduate/entry levels. Let’s remove the training vacuum for experienced staff (male and female), and then let’s consider the opportunities of the ageing workforce (longer careers, more knowledge, flexible working needs)… I know I may never actually get to retire!
This event spoke a lot about the WISE ten steps and targets and measures. These are great indicators but ones that need to be carefully applied and monitored. Most women in my experience want to continue having careers at a pace because they are competent and driven. This is the same as our male peers, but it just so happens there are less of us in number. The key is to enable us to compete better with our peers to be successful, and measure that success, to effect rolling change to entry and education levels.
Now about that label, I’m happy to join the circus (as a juggler of course!)…
Men and Women - Equal or Different? Held on:
5th November 2015
Transport Strategy Manager
‘Clearly it’s both’ said Simon Kirby at the start of this debate. I couldn’t agree more. During this debate we heard about the science of the brain that defines us as different, alongside stories of both men and women saying they want to be ‘the best person for the job’, to be ‘treated equally’. Clearly our goals are often the same, as we are the same.
It is better for business to have improved gender balance, and the statistics say so. But that’s not enough. The statistics have been refined over recent years and yet businesses have still not evolved to capture the advantages increased numbers of women can bring.
Lively arguments were heard for men being comfortable with the status quo, therefore effecting little or no change, with an underlying tone of a perceived threat more women may bring. It was therefore especially interesting that the open floor Q&A was largely dominated by the men in the room, in light of several arguments for and against giving women more confidence boosting training and experience, in order to ‘speak up at the table’.
Why is it that the majority of the room (in this rare case women, myself included) were quieter? I don’t think it was an indication of male bravado, but more a confirmation that men have a lot to say and are often not in the room to say it or are even ‘unheard’ in this area of discussion. Their vast contributions were of intellectual observations and great ideas. For example, Mark Hansford suggested making a male board member accountable for Diversity and Inclusion, and ensuring male engineers are engaged. These are great ways to dispel the whispers that it’s a women’s issue, that men are wary of positive discrimination, wary of being the majority, perhaps even wary of being left behind in a tidal wave of women (the latter to be extreme). Women were quieter because they were happy to listen, and I believe, encouraged that the men were repeatedly aligned in their stance (so perhaps we’re not that different after all).
For me personally, I resonated with a lot of what was said.
Heather McPherson’s point that, for women, competency gets you as far as middle management, after which you need to have exposure and stretch assignments unfortunately rings true in my observations. Also, she went on to say that when micro discrimination occurs (and it does) it is definitely ‘more powerful if the male in the room speaks up’ to dismiss it.
Then there was Lynn Tomkin’s point that we do need to encourage women to network. We need to encourage women to take charge of their own careers, to seek out networking, accepting it as an important asset to their skillset, and to enable them to widely showcase their work successes. Only then can women play a bigger part in management and senior leadership, and men can be comfortable in a more diverse workforce across all levels.
So to improve equality, regardless of whether we consider men and women to be the same or different, we all have a part to play.
Beth Waugh made the point that five years ago we would not be speaking out on gender equality so it’s wonderful that the MPA is giving everyone a voice. Also, life is now moving on. Our expectations have changed if nothing else. Both fathers and mothers may need flexible working patterns, although this is no different to those without children who need to choose commitments to suit their lifestyle. It is also clear that new industry entrants have a refreshing set of expectations that often include a work life balance from the start which is a great shift from the Monday to Friday nine to five ‘norm’.
So hopefully it is now arguments against debate and discussion on diversity that are condemned to the closet, no different to how discussions of equality were ten years ago.
“What if we could just respect the rights of men and women… it would be amazing.” – delegate, Q&A
No male blog available