“Deeds, not words” - the Inspire Summit on how to attract and retain women in the construction industry

Published:  04 October, 2018

Industry experts including Barbara Res, the woman who built Trump Tower, met at a recent summit to discuss how to create a more diverse construction industry.

The Inspire Summit was held in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, and hosted by journalist and broadcaster Marverine Cole (pictured).

It began with an introduction from Emma Richman, Director of Assets at Great Places Housing Group. She took delegates through a history of women’s rights, including the suffragettes and their motto “deeds not words”.

This sentiment was echoed several times throughout the day, as participants agreed that discussions are held too often about diversity in the industry, but not enough action is taken.

Panel discussions included topics such as “Gender matters: the business case for gender parity and how we can achieve it”, “How men can be allies” and “How can we combat discriminatory behaviour in the workplace?”

Participants agreed that a diverse workforce makes for a more respectful working environment, and allows greater potential for problem solving as employees with a variety of life experiences can see things from different angles and in an innovative way.

With the skills shortage a looming issue in the industry, flexible working was hailed as a way that skilled people can be retained. The opportunity for flexible working allows women with childcare responsibilities to adapt their working lives around their commitments, so they do not have to leave a job because of them.

Another issue was the fact that student make their career choices, or at least choose which careers they are ruling out, at a very young age. This means that industry representatives must be visiting schools and showing girls early on how exciting and rewarding a career in construction can be.

Participants stressed that the industry must shake off its sexist stereotype and demonstrate to girls that they could one day help to build on other planets. It was also suggested that successful women from the industry ensure they are reaching out to girls either in schools or social media so that they can be role models for them.

Entrepreneur Dr Pragya Agarwal called for more transparency about wages, to tackle the gender pay gap. She said that companies should regularly audit their employees’ salaries, and advised women to “start the conversation” and find out how much their male counterparts are being paid, and speak up if they think they are not receiving equal pay.

Male delegates were assured that they should not be scared to say the wrong thing and come across “un-PC”, but to apologise if they did offend someone, and try to learn from their mistakes. They were advised to be aware of their gendered language, such as automatically addressing a group of people in a group email as “gents” as this is alienating for its female members.

Monika Slowikowska, Managing Director of Golden Housing Developments, recommended that SME employees attend workshops to ensure they understand how to behave and communicate appropriately, and to show them the benefits of diversity.

The day concluded with a keynote speech from Barbara Res, the first woman to be in charge of the construction of a major skyscraper – Trump Tower.

She spoke witheringly about Trump’s sexism as well as the shocking discrimination she faced during her career.

Read an exclusive interview with Res, about how businesses owners can attract more women and treat them appropriately and her advice for women in the industry facing discrimination, in the November/December issue of BMN.

Sign Up

For the Builders' Merchants News enewsletter.

In the spotlight

We have vacancies all over the UK for those who work within the Building Supplies sector.