The numbers speak volumes - context
In celebration of International Women’s Day, and Diversity more widely, I was delighted to attend two amazing events this month. One was hosted by global construction consultancy AECOM, the other by Construction News.
Both were excellent events attended by an inspirational group of people exploring, at AECOM, how construction and engineering can reach gender parity. Fascinating questions and experiences were shared on everything from talking about the whole age spectrum and going beyond the issue of maternity to create inclusive workspaces. The Construction News Inspire Me event looked in detail at how mentoring in its many forms can create empathy and connection between individuals, and thereby foster greater diversity, to grow the next generation of leaders.
What both of these events had in common was the proportion of men who attended, which was 10% or less. Coincidentally, this same 1:10 ratio reflects the proportion of women to men working in the construction sector overall.
I believe that to create an inclusive industry where everyone can grow, thrive and contribute we need all voices to be involved, irrespective of gender. This may sound strange to some who assume that only women have anything to gain from the gender diversity debate. Or indeed that men cannot be part of a movement for change as they are the majority.
Why everyone needs to be part of the conversation
It is essential that all people be part of the movement to make a change in the construction industry as there is a benefit for all in tackling this challenge holistically.
Exclusion is never about individuals. To create lasting change the systems which enable bias must be dismantled and rebuilt. When it comes to gender parity men need to be part of the process of change, acting as allies to promote and maintain the new systems.
Gaining male allies
You may now be thinking “well that sounds great, but how might this be achieved?” Here are 3 ways to gain great male allies for gender equality, diversity and inclusion:
1 Shift the conversation - while it’s never explicit, those of us who are driving the conversation need to be clear about inclusion being about EVERYONE. The perception at present for too many people is that it is about ‘smashing the patriarchy’ to replace it with a matriarchy! This is not what creating inclusive strategies is about.
2 Take positive action to diversify events - when we see that any group is underrepresented in the wider conversation we have to take action to address this (sound familiar?). This could include direct invites to men, ensuring that images used to promote events feature a diverse group of people and ensuring that content is gender neutral where appropriate.
3 Leverage peer engagement - the debate around women in construction, diversity and inclusion is gaining traction. However, people who feel they do not share a characteristic or lived experience sometimes feel nervous about taking part in the debate. At the Construction News event an attendee asked the question: ‘Whose role is it be to educate around diversity in the workplace?’ She went on to speak of her frustration and her sense of responsibility as a young woman of colour in having to take on this role.
I feel that everyone can contribute to the debate, present new perspectives, and challenge the status quo. For some getting change underway will not be about attending large events with inspirational speakers, it will be about hearing authentic, personal narratives from their peers. We must leverage this powerful tool to gain more male allies.