Balance for better: why lack of diversity is an issue for everyone
Having spent so many years campaigning for equality, both as trade union official and now also as Chair of the CIOB Diversity Special Interest Group, there can possibly be no greater honour than being asked to write a blog for International Women’s Day.
Over the years, the lack of understanding of what an inclusive work place means and looks like never ceases to irritate me. An organisation can have all the policies in the world but that doesn’t make things equal, in fact they often hide behind the policies as an excuse for inactivity. It is nearly 50 years since the UK passed much of its equality legislation, so I would have thought that, as I come to the end of my working life after 35 years, that we would have moved on. Sadly, we haven’t. Equal pay is still a utopian ideal yet to be realised for many. How many men don’t even consider that their female colleagues must work twice as hard for less pay than they get? How transparent is your workplace?
I have spent my working life in the public sector, working for local authorities and then in education and, whilst not perfect by any means, these sectors hold a mirror up to the construction industry and show it to be the dinosaur that it is. The industry is changing but not quickly enough and I challenge everyone in the industry, and especially men, to wake up and become champions of equality, consigning the macho man rubbish to history where it belongs.
Just a couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a woman who works in the construction industry and often visits sites during her work. She relayed to me that, whilst on site, she had had to walk for 20 minutes to find a café in town to use the toilet because no facilities were available for her on site. This was, she said, a regular occurrence, where toilets are often locked, and the keys lost or being used as a store room and unavailable. I understand some of her anguish. As a person with disabilities who needs accessible facilities, I know how it feels to be denied this basic human right, especially when I can’t even get in the door. The very worst part of this is that the person who relayed this to me said that they were frightened to bring it up as it would disadvantage them. As a trade union official, I fight for people against injustice, bullying and harassment in the workplace and was furiously upset that someone could feel so frightened and intimidated that they couldn’t stand up for the basic right of a toilet they could use at work.
Another recent conversation with an academic colleague centred on our belief that the working day is a misogynistic model which excludes women – and those with caring responsibilities – from the workplace and must become a feature of the past. How many meetings are called before 9am in the morning, or go on after 3pm in the afternoon? There is no need for this and no excuse. Pledge that all meetings will be short, focussed and held between 10am and 2pm. There is nothing big or clever about being at work early in the morning and late into the evening and being the last to leave. I’m proud to pick my kids up from school and help them with their homework, then cook and eat tea with them and show them a positive role model.
If you think back to the 1960s, drink driving was acceptable. Now, it is quite rightly seen as abhorrent. Attitudes change with time. As a society we must move to a point where the workplace holds equality of opportunity for everyone, not just the privileged chosen few. If UK construction is going to meet the challenges of the future, then it needs to be an attractive, fulfilling working environment for all. If things don’t change, the pipeline will continue to leak, and my truly brilliant women graduates, which I fight to attract and recruit, will continue to leave an industry which so often shows them a metaphorical closed door.
We need to keep fighting for equality and only by exposing, naming and shaming all those companies and individuals who seek to repress will we ever hope to move on. I believe in the politics of hope; together we will make things change. Remember no ‘man’ can hold back the tide.
 About this article
This article was written by Chris Keast who is Chair of the CIOB Diversity Special Interest Group and chartered building engineer, fellow of The Chartered Association of Building Engineers, fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, member of ICOMOS and fellow of The Higher Education Academy.
The article first appeared as a blog on the CIOB website.
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