women who build britain
01 August 2016
Women Who Build Britain, organised by Shine Bid Services, hosted a debate at Bloomsbury House on the 9th of June. A panel of leading women in construction discussed the impact Brexit would have on the industry, and what this means to women.
Cath, Vicky, Liz and Johnny from fabrik attended the event, which also touched upon issues of gender imbalance in the trade.
Following on from the evening, Cath, Vicky and Liz continued to explore the topic and how it relates to their experiences in the industry.
Cath’s thoughts on the evening were:
‘It was refreshing and revitalizing to hear a panel of women (with one man) speaking freely and with opinion in this male dominated industry.
It was a shame that the audience was made up pretty much solely of women. It is the responsibility of all to change the gender imbalance so effectively described here, not just that of women.
I was saddened to hear many of the statistics – particularly of the dire lack of women at board level.
The pro Europe voice was enormously strong and it is now Britain’s responsibility to learn from countries such as Sweden and Denmark in creating workplace legislation that allows and supports women to succeed in the workplace whilst still having children. I fear this is not an area where Britain will focus and so the path to senior management will be left to individual companies to implement their own rules. The message therefore needs to be loud and far-reaching in order to influence companies to set standards themselves in areas such as maternity / paternity leave/pay and flexible working hours and locations rather than just apply the rules given to them.’
‘I was shocked to see the low percentage of females in various roles in the construction industry, especially in the upper management levels (as this just isn’t the case in fabrik).
It seemed that we all have similar experiences of being female, in still a predominantly male dominated industry. We are still experiencing issues with professionals of our own age that, quite frankly, should know better.
In my view, more males needed to have attended the event to understand the issues that were raised, to educate and readdress the balance (if the circumstances are right).
The debate wasn’t wholly focused on the Brexit / Remain campaign and what this means to women, but what it means to the construction industry. The overall message was clear – to remain. This was helpful in informing my decision.
However, interesting though the evening was on a number of levels, I came away not knowing what each and every one of us can do to shift the balance; to educate others to ensure that future female professionals do not experience what we have experienced.'
'It was quite disappointing to realise how a political party solely aimed at women’s equality is still so necessary and required in this day and age. I have always been so aware of how few women there are in the construction industry as I have spent over many years being the only women in meetings; even so I was shocked to see the statistics presented.
Landscape architecture does seem to break this trend; however the rest of the construction industry is so far behind that you still find yourself the minority in almost every Project Team.
The women presenting were obviously strong leaders and confident in themselves and their own abilities, some especially Anne McNamara came across as very inspiring.
I was disappointed that at one point the conversation got back to the topic of clothing!! Do you think if we were debating men in the industry that would even be mentioned? Of course you can still dress in a feminine way, we are women after all. However, that’s not the point; the point is women continually need to push through inequality and discrimination to succeed. There were over 150 women in the room, and they are not the ones that need educating, but the men throughout the industry that need to be made aware of the systemic bias against women and the positive impact that women can have on the industry.
The phrase ‘soft skills’ was used and often women are described as having these soft skills, however its meaning seems to be lost on those men in the industry who see the word ‘soft’ and think weak.
Soft skills are about emotional intelligence, communication abilities, language skills, personal habits, cognitive or emotional empathy, and leadership traits which combined are most likely to enable you to build constructive working relationships with others. These are all high valuable traits, so perhaps the men that make the decisions should see women having soft skills as adding strength to their team, not hindering it.
Overall the evening was a strange contradiction of being disheartened and inspired at the same time.'
A question they all came away with is how can we influence this gender imbalance within our industry?
As a company with a positive gender balance; 62% of fabrik’s staff is female, the business supports equality through flexible working hours, adaptable contracts adjusted to individuals, and the opportunity to work at locations suited to a person’s needs.
Additionally, all views and opinions expressed within fabrik are valued; whether male or female, and this is demonstrated at various events, critiques and presentations arranged by the business, but also in internal smaller team meetings.
‘I am proud to work in a company that values everyone’s skills and input regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. I am also proud to be a Landscape Architect, an industry that clearly celebrates diversity and has recently had female presidents in both the UK and the US.’
Liz also endorses fabrik for their adaptable contracts:
‘The fabrik directors have been wholly supportive and empowered me with my move from the studio to work from home, allowing me to achieve project deliverables through flexible hours to suit both me and the project deadlines, whilst also enabling a certain lifestyle choice. This minimises commuting time and means that I am ready to tackle the challenges of the day‘
Post Meeting and Vote comment
In many ways it seems an age ago now that the UK has opted out of the EU and we are starting to see the ramifications of the vote unwind; uncertainty, denigration, denial and outright abuse. All of these negative emotions now emerging erode the confidence built up since the recession.
It does not though make the meeting and the discussions on the night any less relevant.
Quite the opposite.
Our task internally and externally as we speak to colleagues and clients is to make sure we are not dragged down to the level that our politicians operate at. We must not be assuaged by our politicians to accept the facts after the matter of the vote to leave.
The facts were wrong and the indecent haste with which the main protagonists of the Brexit group disappeared over the horizon is best described by Heseltine when he spoke of Johnson and Gove... He's like a general that led his army to the sound of guns and at the sight of the battlefield, abandoned the field to the claims of his adjutant who says he wasn't up to the job in the first place.
Harsh words indeed.
How did they do it?
There is a principle known as the Overton Window.
It is a term used in political science highlighting the acceptable range of political thoughts/policies in a culture at a given moment. The notion is that any policy falling outside the Overton Window is out of step with public opinion.
The idea of leaving the EU and the single market, which started far outside the political mainstream with James Goldsmith has gained traction, has been stated and argued for over the years to the point where it might be possible.
What was unacceptable and outside popular opinion became acceptable by the intervention of right wing politicians in the debate and the swagger of the kingmaker Gove, who subsequently slew the King, and the potentate himself, Boris Johnson and his coterie.
We have not lost any work since Brexit and we continue to pitch for projects and win them. We look forward and we see work coming in. We will continue to talk to our clients and our staff so they know how proactively we are dealing with the fallout of the Brexit vote and its impact on the construction industry.
As a business we are confident about the future and we will portray that message strongly as we have a remarkably committed and balanced workforce that provides strong leadership to our teams. A fundamental part of that balance is the perspective and the voice that the women in our practice bring to positions across the practice.
We all need to hear more of that voice.
All images courtesy of Sean Pollock