By Jacqui Miller-Charlton MBE
I read with great interest the recent First Women’s article concerning the sector I forged my career in and the need for change to attract and indeed retain more female talent to bolster numbers within this traditionally male dominated area of industry. An area that is often considered a less than attractive career opportunity for girls. The industry of course to which I refer is Construction, a sector that has typically been associated with men throughout history and which today is still considered to be one of the most challenging if you’re a woman. As one of the industry’s first females who broke that glass ceiling in an era where male chauvinists were a plenty and rude gestures and comments were very much ‘par for the course’ I’m very often asked for my opinion on why this sector appears to remain stubbornly archaic in its views toward female talent.
Let me start by saying to any woman reading this that industry in general is a tough environment to work in but I dare say no more so than what appears to me to be the very cut throat and ruthless business of politics, fashion, makeup, modelling, hairdressing etc. To reach the top of your profession whatever sector you’ve chosen to work in brings with it a different set of challenges depending upon what it is that your particular business is trying to achieve. Hard work, the right attitude and determination are some of the attributes you will need to succeed in any career path. It is my belief that although much still needs to be done in order to meet the equality and diversity challenges throughout our industries across the UK we can as a nation help ourselves by changing how we view work and gender prejudice towards career choices.
Some of the much needed answers to the issues we face in these areas lie within our nation’s largest firms, who in the 21st century should accept that it is part of their responsibility to force through the very necessary change. They must lead the way in revolutionising our thinking if we are to see not only the construction sector but industry in general considered as a career of choice for our country’s future female talent. “It’s not exactly a sexy industry Jacqui” is a comment I’ve heard often and of course I fully appreciate that may be some people’s view but I can state through first-hand experience that if you work hard and deliver on the promises you make then as a woman it’s probably still one of the most fulfilling and rewarding career choices to make. In an environment fraught with daily challenges it’s an exciting and fast paced sector. Very rarely are any two days the same and if you’re able to offer well thought through solutions, which in my experience I’ve often found the female gender to be particularly good at, then without doubt you will be recognised and rewarded accordingly.
I am also of the view that within the construction industry particularly a “Brand makeover” is also required so that younger girls can look at a career within this area as a serious option and a real opportunity for career advancement. We need to start within schools and stop segregating career options by gender. We need much improved career advice that captures the imagination of girls at a much younger age. We need to dispel the myths that the industry is “not a place for girls” and we need a nationwide movement by the industries top firms to make a pledge to actively promote the sector as a great career choice for women. As we exited the recession of 09/10/11 and construction began to recover there was a significant shortfall of industry talent that held the skill sets necessary for the sector to flourish. Lots of talent had retrained and forged a new career path elsewhere when they were laid off through lack of work. When I joined the CEA’s (Construction Equipment Association) Skills Advisory Board set up to act upon the issues surrounding this fallout we identified a number of areas we needed to improve upon, one being our ability to encourage more women into industry.
We need to show today’s talent that the construction industry can be a truly exhilarating career choice, an opportunity to progress up the career ladder and a satisfying work experience that leaves you feeling a valued part of your organisation. I read with disappointment of the difficulties that some of our graduates of 2015 are experiencing in their attempts to secure a decent job with career prospects that will enable them to earn enough for them to live comfortably whilst repaying their debt to government as a result of them funding their further education. I wonder if any of these no doubt intelligent and talented individuals have considered construction and the associated sectors as a career possibility?
It is my belief that if we were to look at ways in which we can engage our up and coming young ladies to look beyond stereo typical gender based career paths and consider alternatives within what have to date been recognised as male dominated working environments then the prize for such a movement to our national economy would be quite considerable. Our male dominated industries would without doubt benefit from the type of thinking that women have to offer.
Imagine being the First Nation to export ‘dual thinking’ within previously one gender industries like construction? Could this lead to the UK securing many large infrastructure projects on a global scale as a result?