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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Wonder Woman: Does she help the female cause or is it down to those already in the Construction Industry?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought about Wonder Woman being appointed as the honorary ambassador for gender equality by the United Nations. I paused and asked, "as in the comic book FICTIONAL character?" To which she confirmed it was. My answer was, " I think it's stupid, why would you choose a made up character when there are so many more real women who are alive". My answer was reactive, and knowing she had more than likely given the question some real consideration, I asked her what she thought. She said, "to me it implies that gender equality is fictional if they appoint a fictional character". She continued to acknowledge that Winnie-the-Pooh had been appointed honorary ambassador for friendship and Tinkerbell the honorary ambassador of green but went on to say "this is different because its about gender equality, and by that I mean it's too important to be given to a character who cant speak, who HAS NO VOICE."

And there it is, a theme that can be applied to so many things these days.  Gender equality or lack thereof. Something that in 2016 seems so backwards, yet something that the UN is contributing to whether unintentionally or not.

A hot topic generally at the moment, gender inequality is all over the news and social media and is certainly a cause worth speaking out about. In our day to day lives we live it, and some more so than others. With this in mind, I've been looking at the UK construction industry - of which I am a part - and the enormous gender imbalance within the industry. 

Looking specifically at the UK construction industry, which according to the Office of National Statistics is made up of 11% women - 1% of which are "on the tools" in jobs such as carpentry and plumbing and the other 10% include support and professional roles. It doesn't seem to be progressing towards gender equality at a speed that should be expected in 2016. Organisations such as Women into Construction and the Construction Youth Trust are working towards getting more women and girls into the industry by working with Contractors, Consultants and other bodies in the industry but there seems to be a long way to go and an uphill struggle to persuade firms that women are equal to men when it comes to hiring for construction roles. 

It seems strange to me that when there is such a large skills shortage in the industry we are not tapping 50% of the population to fill this gap. Especially when it is proven that a mix of men and women make businesses more productive because of the different approaches and skills they bring to the table. 

As a female in the construction industry I understand it is not always the most appealing industry to work for from the outside. With research suggesting direct and indirect discrimination, and harassment are the norm along with the presence of a glass ceiling that male counterparts do not encounter, there is still a lot of work to do to level the playing field. As younger generations enter the construction industry and older generations leave, I certainly notice that attitudes are changing. My personal experience has been positive in the main but perhaps that's down to experience, my expectations and very importantly a thick skin and a sense of humour.

The industry is beginning to do more, and it appears to see the value in making the work environment a more hospitable place for female workers but this is a slow process. So whilst it is clear the industry needs more time to tackle the gender imbalance, it also needs to hurry up because for each day, month or year it delays, it is losing out on the brightest and best of female engineers and project managers to name a few, to other industries such as Tech and Finance. It's time now for construction employers and professional bodies to get into gear and make construction a more modern, fast paced and innovative industry that is open and attractive to women. Its time to demonstrate what a fantastic industry construction is to work in.

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