Monday, 15 August 2011

How people in construction see each other

How people in construction see one another.

Inspired by @matushiq’s “how people in science see each other” we have come up with “how people in construction see each other” for the following reasons

  • ·         We thought it would be funny
  • ·         We thought it would help people understand the complex nature of the industry
  • ·         We don’t have children – which means we have more free time at the weekend than most

Please feel free to share, leave comments and suggest improvements.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Construction Knowledge Circles For Women – What they are and why you should attend.

For the past four years we have been running management and leadership courses for women in construction and whilst our blog on why women need separate management and leadership training can tell you why the training is important this blog aims to look at why you should consider not only attending Construction Knowledge Circles but paying for them yourselves.
Whilst I have adored delivering training for women around management and leadership in construction the day long, employer led  nature of these workshops caused me concern for a number of reasons.
1.       The majority of the courses I ran for women around management and leadership were funded, this meant that only certain women could attend and once they had used their funding allocation they were no longer viable to attend further courses. Whilst something is  better than nothing and many women did benefit , we also felt that this excluded groups of  women and let down others who needed more support.
2.       The training usually depended upon how enlightened the employer was. It was usual to encounter individual women asking me to deliver this training in their organisations only to be told by the HR department that it was not relevant to their staff. This lead to some women feeling the right support was not being provided and their voices were not being heard. It’s important to say that some HR departments were the opposite encouraging women who were at first apprehensive about attending*
3.       The funding was dependent upon what the provider wanted and not always what the individual needed, there’s a lot of presumed barriers in the industry which sometimes lead to a lot of women feeling patronised and misunderstood – further isolating them from the support that should be helping them excel.
4.       When the funding stops –it all stops. I have seen many wonderful organisations set up to support women fold due to lack of funding. This not only leaves a hole where advice once was but can leave people feeling let down and unimportant.
5.       Most funding stipulates training must take place in the day – yet as women in construction we know how difficult it can be to get away from work especially if the training is seen as a fluffy women only event.
These reasons plus the many many emails and messages we have received over the years asking for more advice, support and guidance to achieving great careers in construction inspired us to set up Construction Knowledge Circles. Whilst we know that £20 can be a lot have a look at our reasons for charging you and not seeking funding.
1.       By paying as an individual it ensures no one else can pull the funding – as long as enough women are interested we can continue to provide the workshops.
2.       Because we are not at the mercy of a funding provider we can deliver the training you need. Whilst it’s not possible to please everybody all of the time we endeavour to consult and work with members to achieve what is best for them.
3.       By paying for the CPD this means we can ensure each workshop is of high quality and designed for your needs, we want to give you what you need, not what we can get on the cheap.
4.       Having worked in the sector for over ten years and spent a further four researching the management and leadership barriers that women face we really understand what might be holding you back and what you need to do to move forward.  We will not patronise you or demand you do everything we tell you, we will simply tell you what we know and help you make choices that suit you – we are well aware that every individual and workplace is different.
5.       With your buy in we can run courses regularly so you know when they are and can plan your lives around them.
6.       Last but not least. We think it’s important we are paid for our time and would be a little insulted if you didn’t think so too!
If your interested in finding out more please get in touch or go straight to our website and book yourself on to the next course!
Happy Building
Chrissi x

NB For those men who wish to attend, let me know I’m looking into the idea of holding mixed workshops alongside female only ones if the need is there.
*A strange occurrence, the apprehensive women usually left the best feedback after the sessions.

Monday, 4 April 2011

How will the new equality duties affect me as a construction firm? Five things construction firms should know about the new legislation.

From the 5th April the new equality duties come into force.  I know that for some of you the idea of additional legislation is not an attractive one, whilst for others diversity is something you have been looking to improve for some time.  Personally I hope that the legislation helps organisations to see the benefit of a well managed diverse workforce.
Given that your day jobs are mostly in construction not equality I am going to write this blog for the layman in an attempt to give you a running start.
So here are my five things construction firms should know about the new equality duties.
1.       Whilst all the equality legislation is under one banner now (Equality Act 2010) there are parts of the legislation that affect everyone (More familiar as the old Sex discrimination act, Race relations act etc) and parts that only affect the public sector and its subcontractors these are known as the equalities duties. When the equality duties came in (around 2007) they only affected Race, gender and disability. The main change to the duties that comes in on the 5th is the fact that the duties will now cover eight of the nine protected characteristics (things that by law we cannot legally discriminate against) these are Age, Disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation*.
2.       It is the duty of the public sector to tell you as a subcontractor that you are required to comply with the equality duties. If they don’t make this clear you do not have to comply and they can be held to account for that.
3.       The purpose of the equality duties is to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment, and to actively promote equality. The main point of the equality duties is that you should be being proactive and this is what the public sector will now be looking for in your tender documents under E&D. Where traditionally you will have seen questions asking what you have done the duties will push public sector to ask you what you will do.
4.       What should you do? No one is expecting you to have a diverse and equal workforce by the end of the week, the aim is more to get you moving by showing this is an area that you are taking seriously.  Of course some of you will have very little budget – again don’t worry a lot of the initial work can be done with relatively small resources.  The two most important things currently that tenders will be looking for (please note this is open to change dependent upon the client) is that you are following their recognised processes. This means that you monitor your workforce and that you implement Equality impact assessments on your policies and procedures. Information regarding both of these areas is available on the web; we have links under resources on our website and have previously written a blog regarding equality impact assessment within construction. If you need further help feel free to send us Blog Q.
5.       Get your staff up to date with the changes, after all this isn’t just about playing lip service well managed equality and diversity improves profit and productivity – this is the message that you should be sending out to your staff from the top down. Make sure you can provide training that understands the concerns of your staff and takes them seriously; this can be a scary area for some and if these initial reservations are not dealt with the message will not be embedded.
We have put together a small survey to find out what solutions you need to meet the duties, if you enjoyed this blog please take a few minutes to fill it in so we can continue to help you meet your objectives.


* Marriage and civil partnership is the only protected characteristic not covered by the equality duties.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Women on board, The 30 by 15 challenge.

You may or may not be aware that Lord Davis published his review into women in the board room last Thursday.
Though the report was across all sectors as always we shall be looking at this with our construction hat on, it’s true that construction needs more women at board level, that’s my opinion of course but I did form it after reading a shed load of research so I consider it an informed one.

I have never been able to get over the correlation between the challenges identified by both Egan and Latham and the changes that occur when increasing the number of women in the workplace especially at board level. That and the tiny fact that more than 30%  female representation on boards increases profit and productivity (Catyalyst), significantly too, 42% higher return on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital, 53% higher return on equality (Mckinsey and company 2007)

And whilst I still hear from companies that they cannot find the right women, women don’t  put themselves forward and women don’t have the skills, women keep telling me that they don’t get offered the opportunities, cant see how they would fit on an all male board and are held back from gaining the required skills.

It looks to me that somewhere in all of this we have gotten ourselves into a right muddle. Of course there are solutions, but we feel there is also huge opportunity for industry. If we worked as a whole to not just take up the challenge set by Lord Davis to achieve 25% representation by 2015 but to try and beat it by making construction the first industry to achieve 30% this would not only bring the business benefits of a well represented board to organizations but raise industry profile and show a move away from the outdated stereotype of construction as a man’s world.

It’s a lot to ask but I think we could do it; after all we manage to navigate PQQ’s, client expectations and framework requirements. This should be a walk in the park right?

If you decide to adopt the challenge let us know so we can let everyone else know, and for those with a budget for these things why not find out more about our balanced board program to help you on your way, for those without read our top five tips.

1.      We promote in our own image because we usually think our views are right. Oh don’t get me wrong some are less vocal about it (not everyone has time to write a blog) and others do try and seek new knowledge to ensure fully rounded opinions, but on the whole we like the people that agree with us. We shouldn’t think this is a conscious decision either, it’s usually not and unless we are aware of this and have been trained in how to realize when it is happening it’s likely that we will continue to repeat the same patterns and consider different viewpoints as weak when making appointments. To move forward ensure your boards and recruiters are aware of the right agendas when undergoing the recruitment process.
2.      Whilst the pot isn’t currently over flowing, at the moment there are women looking to take the step to board level, especially if we get in first and find them. Many are in your own companies, it’s just that something has gotten in the way be that confidence, workplace barriers, caring responsibilities etc. With the right systems in place you can find and up skill these women. What’s more it’s very likely that the confidence boost will have a knock on effect to their performance in their day to day jobs too.
3.      When looking for Non executive candidates its worth examining your contacts, and looking to see how diverse they are. With the majority of appointments never advertised women often don’t get a look in due to the male centric experience that is construction networking. I would urge you to expand your networks, not only to other sectors that have a stronger representation of women at senior level but also to consider the huge number of talented individuals who could not achieve their goals within a traditional construction firm and have started up on their own, you only need to look to the recent presidents of ICE, IstrutE and RIBA to see my point.
4.      Research has found that when there are less than 3 women on a board they are still likely to be considered tokens, often by themselves as well as their fellow board members. This is regardless of how they got there quota/no quota. Only once 3 women have been appointed will numbers outweigh the tokenism issue and you can start to see real change happen.
5.      Appoint what you need to, not who you want. Look at the areas your board currently lacks if you have 12 Senior directors will another bring anything fresh to the table? Might there be some benefit in bringing in some one at middle management or even operational level to gain a more rounded view of the company? Please note if you chose to do this individuals should undergo an appropriate period of training to ensure they are able to deal with boardroom situations.

I look forward to hearing from those of you brave enough to undertake my challenge!

Happy Building

Chrissi x

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The implications of bad banter – 5 rules to keep us all laughing

(or Its just Banter get back in the kitchen and make me a cuppa.)
I was all lined up to write this week’s blog on women in board rooms but then Andy Gray and Richard Keys decided to make a few disparaging remarks, which have dominated the headlines for the last few days and I feel I would be remiss of me not to comment.
So I know the offside rule has very little to do with the construction industry – though it can be helpful for networking and I’m quite sure a healthy knowledge of football in my late teens secured me my first construction job.
But it wasn’t that which raised my brow, it was a common response from Joe public men and women alike that this is just banter, worse is heard down the pub and maybe we should all grow a sense of humour.
Firstly I would like to defend my sense of humour as I know that writing this blog will automatically render me humourless to some. Whilst I have not won the Perrier award I have been awarded “joke of the day” by my FiancĂ© on 2 separate occasions this year – quite the accolade in our house. I also enjoy banter lots and have been told I spar well, having honed my skills over many years in pubs and building sites across the land. Should we meet at a networking event I would be happy for you to challenge these skills – though I warn you my language can be a little blue.
The issue I have is when banter effects the way people do their jobs, by all means down the pub tell me “I should be at home doing the ironing”, I’d probably hit back with a “why? By the look of your shirt you clearly don’t bother”. Not sparkling wit but you get the point.
Do not though as my boss, tell me “I would do you” this makes me feel like a piece of meat. In the pub I can stand my ground say what I like, remark as low as you do if I choose or sit with another group of people. At work I don’t have those options, if I make a witty retort and dent someone’s pride I risk losing out on future opportunities, if I make a complaint I’m seen as not able work as a team and so I choose to go along with it and smile, and pretend that it’s OK to speak to me like that.
Don’t get me wrong on its own it’s not enough to leave the industry over, but when you don’t get the promotions it makes you wonder how your viewed and its certainly enough to make you enjoy your job less which research shows will make you less productive.
Now before anyone mentions delicate little women, many men have taken me to the side to state they also thought this was inappropriate but did not feel they could speak up within the group. Bad banter is bad for everyone except the alpha male/female’s that use it to control, belittle and bully. This is not a male/female ethnic/non ethnic issue, it’s a people issue I hear complaints in relation to age, ability, height etc if is offensive to someone its offensive.
The most high profile case I have seen was in the midlands around 3 years ago where a Muslim man was made to eat bacon sandwiches, dumped in a BNP loyal part of the city and called a number of offensive names, in this first case this was called banter – the judge ruled discrimination.
Now before we get our knickers in a twist this doesn’t mean that we should stop banter, In fact quite the opposite banter should be encouraged and protected it promotes healthy happy teams and makes the day go faster.
 What we should do is challenge those who use banter in the wrong way and spoil it for the rest of us, let’s not consider banter to be a bad thing but to recognise bad banter. You wouldn’t ban chefs from owning knives because one went rouge and stabbed someone, you also wouldn’t blame the person stabbed, you would seek to stop the stabbing.
So here are some guidelines to stop bad banter and keep us all happy.
1.       If you hear something that’s clearly offensive and unprofessional do not laugh, even to save face this will encourage the behaviour and make it seem ok.
2.       If you are offended but don’t wont to seem humourless try switching. Using a response that points out its inappropriateness. Eg Bad banter“women should stay in the kitchen” Response “ill bear that in mind when I do your valuation”. Of course be careful when using this method on people in a position of power over you.
3.       If you are a manager and you hear your staff talking offensively put your foot down, your there to be respected not liked and if you show leadership by taking a stand your staff are more likely to follow.
4.       Rule of three, bad banter can be a hard habit to break so don’t blow up the first time you hear something you don’t like take the individual to the side and explain why and ask them to refrain. If they do it again reiterate your point and at the third attempt take stronger action if you feel it is necessary – never go in guns blazing on the first comment unless it’s crazy offensive.
5.       Be aware your offensive is not every one else’s and vice versa. For example I love being called petal, I don’t know why but I do (clearly taken out of context with a side order of malice I’m not so keen but in the main I’m a fan). But there are those who hate being called petal in much the same way as I hate being called chick so when they ask me not to call them that I stop. Sometimes I forget and call them the name again but will apologise when the error is brought to my attention.
In summary, be nice. If it feels offensive if probably is and there are plenty of other non offensive things to banter about. If someone says it’s offensive to them, respect that, it will make you come across as an intelligent and reasoned adult.
No one wants to work with an ass, so let’s all try not to be one!
As always I would love to hear your comments.
Chrissi x

Monday, 17 January 2011

Five reasons to implement Equality Impact Assessments in a construction firm.

Or (What in the blazes is an Equality Impact assessment and what am I supposed to do with it?)

To those working in the field of equality and diversity the expression Equality Impact Assessment is a familiar one that is known so well know it goes by the name of EIA. Now it’s a good thing that the public sector has embraced EIA, but my concerns turn to the private sector, in my experience it’s a regular occurrence up and down the country when private sector suppliers meet with public sector clients around half of the meeting will be conducted in a language that the other party does not understand. Whether that be the contractors talk of CVR’s, NVC, RWP or SCM or the clients insistence on KPI, EIA, PQQ or CSR. Of course many people will understand a lot of both but the point is the more TLA’s (three letter acronyms) that exist the easier it is to get yourself into a right muddle and find yourself agreeing to something without really knowing what it is.
We had a conversation a few weeks ago with a SME (Small medium enterprise) who had been told to implement an EIA in order to increase their chances on Tender lists, poor fella had no idea what a EIA was let alone how to implement one. So here at Constructing Equality we thought we would provide a breakdown of what EIA’s are and what they can do for you!
Firstly, what is an EIA? - in its most simple definition it’s a  check list you carry out before making any strategic decisions to ensure one group of people won’t be adversely affected by anything you decide– a bit like a risk assessment for diversity.
Secondly why would you want to touch one with a barge pole? Well I’ll give you five reasons
1.       Tender Lists – Public sector authorities need to show they are working in line with the equality duties, this means ensuring that they are being proactive about eliminating harassment and discrimination from the workplace. As a subcontractor for a public authority they are legally bound to ensure you are doing the same. Therefore if you have procedures in place that show you understand this it can give you that edge when your client is making procurement decisions.
2.       Improving Productivity and Profits - The research in this area continues to grow, and it’s saying the same thing, well managed diversity makes firms more productive thus bringing in more money. More women in boards increases profits and clients like to employ organisations that they feel can empathise with them. By implementing an EIA programme you can start moving diversity and profit forward.
3.       Retain staff – If your firm keeps making decisions that isolate certain groups it’s pretty likely that sooner or later those groups will try and find alternative employment. Whilst retention might not be this mornings worry I doubt I need to tell anyone how quick that can change. Oh, and don’t make the mistake of thinking these groups will tell you if they have encountered discrimination, on the whole they tend to keep their heads down – just cos you can’t hear it doesn’t mean is not happening! A good EIA can help you pre empt behaviour and put a stop to it before it happens.
4.       Marketing- Whilst so few private organisations in the built environment are taking on EIA’s you can use it in your marketing campaign to show what a forward thinking firm you are! Again looking good on PQQ’s, winning features in trade mag’s as a best practice organisation and as a great promotional tool when recruiting.
5.       Legal – An EIA will help strengthen your case if here are any legal questions raised, both to complying with the equality duties and as a way of showing you did all you could to uphold the rest of the Equality act.
To help you out we are running one day EIA workshops up and down the country, as with everything we do they are written specifically for the construction industry and delivered by trainers with industry experience and qualifications in equality. Delegate are asked to bring along a sample of one of their own new policies or projects so that real life examples can be used and learn from.
The workshops are designed to ensure you use EIA to improve your organisation without breaking the bank or overloading your employees. If it suits we can also deliver in house. Get in touch to find out more.
For those who need to know these things EIA – Equality impact Assessment, CVR – Cost Valuation Reconciliation, NVC – Nov Verbal Confirmation, RWP- Rain Water Pipe, SCM – Supply Chain Management, KPI – Key performance indicators, EIA – Equality impact assessment, Pre Qualification Questionnaire, CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Five good reasons why women should have their own management training in construction.

Having received some more funding to run our 3 day management and leadership courses for women in construction I spent much of my time this week ringing round employers to offer them the available placements. This experience is usually peppered with those who are enthusiastic; those who are sure you are trying to con them and of course those that couldn’t care less and are simply waiting for the home bell to ring. Occasionally though I get another response which sounds something like this
 “why should women get separate training, we just puts ours in with the men, they are a robust lot and seem to be just fine”
In itself it’s not a wrong statement, back in the days when I worked on site I appeared to be fine, in fact I would have told you so and had you offered me training specifically for women I would have probably turned it down, which might seem a little odd given my current profession.
But it’s not that odd when you think about it, life on site can be quite hard the long hours, pressure to meet completion dates, awful weather and early starts. On top of all of that as a woman you are usually an oddity which means you have to prove yourself that bit more, show that you are capable and as I saw it - show that you can do all this without needing additional help.

It’s a ridiculous notion now that I look back on it but I’m only human and I never said that I wasn’t flawed.
Because women in male dominated professions do need a little bit of extra help to negotiate the barriers placed in front of them, and this shouldn’t be seen as a weakness or a laughing point because there are huge benefits to both the individual and the company.
1.       Increasing Confidence – Of course every individual is different but women as a group tend to have less self confidence then men. Don’t get this confused with ability women can negotiate a tender along with the best of them but when it comes to their own promotions a different story can be told. Good training will help women recognise how to put systems in place to overcome this which is good for them. As an employer its good for you as research has shown more women at senior level increases profits.
2.       Managing Stereotypes – For example seeing women on site can be a difficult notion to get your head around, and that’s not surprising I’ve worked with men who have never in a 40year career worked with a woman on a building site. For them it was very difficult to see me as competent because they had to get over me being a woman first. Over time I would usually prove myself but there is something a little draining about being chartered and still having to always start from scratch, good training discusses ways of coping and provides best practice examples.
3.       Recognising patterns – It never fails to surprise me how often the most damaging behaviours to individuals careers come from good intentions. Women are often given the “softer jobs” in the office or site cabin away from the “dangerous sites”. Which is a huge problem as for most women this is why they went into construction, those “dangerous sites” are also exciting, vibrant playgrounds of knowledge* and keeping women away from them is often a very frustrating experience, it also ensures that career progression is stalled meaning even less women are making it to those all important senior positions. By recognising patterns of behaviour women can take steps to prevent it happening again.                                                    *note NEVER play on a building site!
4.        Understanding workplace politics – Women on the whole behave less politically than men, this means that they are less likely to be noticed for their ability and therefore less likely to be lined up for promotion. By explaining the rules of workplace politics, the importance of networking and understanding how to work towards your employers aims women can move forward in leaps and bounds.
5.       Learning how to treat a crisis – Unfortunately there are times when people don’t behave as well as they should and even more unfortunately people who like to misbehave usually like a target that is different from the group norm. This means that women can face a higher level of workplace conflict when working in construction. Good training will show women how to deal with these issues factoring in the makeup of their organisation so that they can chose solutions that are best for them.
That’s just five reasons and I havent event touched on how to how to maximise recognition for soft skills management, how to use your wardrobe to convey professionalism and the networking benefits of meeting like minded individuals.
So in conclusion – yes women in construction do need good management training designed specifically for them, or at least they do if you want to get the most out of them.
I would of course as always love to hear your views,
Chrissi x

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Why should we have diversity in our business? - The different cases for diversity - business, legal, social, and wider economic.

There is more than one reason to embed diversity in your organization, and each reason is mostly dependent upon your motivation for thinking about diversity in the first place.

It can also affect how you go about implementing your strategy as differing aims can benefit from different approaches.

Before I take you through the main cases for diversity is important to point out that we are talking about reasons to embed diversity within organizations to make real long term change, this is very different from a marketing view of diversity where one or two individuals might be singled out and photographed repeatedly for company publications to create an image which is not embedded by practices. Whilst this approach will likely create the short term image required it will not bring the long term benefits of diversity and can quite often have a negative impact upon your workforce.

There are four main reasons to embed diversity these are business, legal, social and wider economic.

Let’s look at them separately

Business – This is the model that suggests that diversity is good for your business. That by having a diverse workforce you will be more productive, make higher profits and retain more staff. This is the model that I, being in the private sector most of my life, prefer to work to.

Basically employ different types of people because their difference will make you money!

Before we go any further though research in this area is very clear, diversity is only good for business if it’s well managed so don’t expect to hire more women and minority groups without considering how these groups will interact and how to support this interaction. You will need to employ a little change management, but don’t be put off by this depending on the size of your company that could mean anything from a tool box talk to an in-depth diversity strategy.

In recent years research to back up this model has been very popular and is suggesting that boards with 30% female representation have greater profits, diverse workforces are more productive and companies that embrace diversity are more likely to succeed.

There are also arguments that don’t need the scientific back up such as the majority (60%) of the public sector are women, the majority of construction work is currently in the public sector (again around 60%) so if we can mirror our clients, thus showing we are more likely to understand their needs we are likely to win more work. In other words with the current industry make up diversity can give us an edge and that is something I wouldn’t turn down in a recession.

Other arguments such as a variety of experience breeds a choice of solutions can also be considered, it’s a wide topic and this is only meant to introduce you to it, feel free to use the research page on our website to find out more.

Legal the legal argument is of course that you should embed diversity or you will fall foul of the laws of the land. I wonder though how much truth is in that? The new equality act came in last October and simplified equality law, but how much effect will it have? Historically in construction there is a high amount of discrimination recorded through academic research  but a low level of discrimination brought through the courts. This is usually down to individuals wanting to retain their jobs and being fearful of the consequences of reporting discrimination. Those that do decide to take legal action are usually paid off before their claim goes anywhere near a court room, meaning that organizations can still tick all the right boxes when it comes to PQQ’s. So far I’m not convinced.
Ah but what of the equality duties I hear you cry! These regulations originally brought in only for gender, race and disability now cover all of the protected characteristics and ensure that the public sector and its subcontractors are pro active about equality and diversity discrimination, the onus is on them to ensure it just doesn’t happen.

Well that’s good then, it’s all better now? Well no not really, the legislation is still new and not an awful lot of precedent has been set, especially not referring to the supply chain, more advances need to be made in procurement and policing so it’s more of a case of watch this space but at least we are headed in the right direction – sort of.

So in summary be equal and diverse or the law will punish you, except it probably won’t.

Social In its most basic form it’s the idea that we should be equal, fair and nice to one another because its, well the right thing to do. Oh by the by it would also help to improve our societies but I know that’s all sounding too left for some. Its true though but also an argument found mostly in the public sector. And whilst there are a few private companies who do embrace this model, some of them with much gusto, they are the exceptions to the rule.

Wider Economic This is the idea that by improving our company’s diversity and sifting the white male dominance of the industry we will as an industry improve our image, efficiency and bottom lines. With the construction industry being accountable for around 10% of the GDP that could create a real change in the wider economic picture.
Remember we are not saying women and/or minorities are better, but that diversity is better it brings a mixture of skills and abilities that can create a positive result.
The issues raised by Latham and Egan raise a stark resemblance to issues found in other male dominant industries.
As an industry we need to improve to survive.

I have covered only a tip of the tip of the iceberg to try and get you thinking about why diversity is important I could easily write a book on each, but what do you think? Please do post your views they are all always valuable.

Intrepid Woman: Building the Future in Uganda

filed under Intrepid Women Series
By Chrissi McCarthy, Founder of Constructing Equality (Liverpool, UK)

A blog I was asked to write by Glass Hammer for their Intrepid Women Series
In the summer of 2005 I was asked to go to Uganda with an English charity to help build a school in the small village of Keyo in the North of the country, just outside of Gulu. It was an area struggling to progress itself, having been caught up in the civil war that is still affecting the country and was badly in need of new educational facilities to help educate the next generation and provide a future.
Having spent four years in the UK construction industry working as a site engineer before taking a recent promotion into site management, I was asked to set out the two buildings before the rest of the team of English volunteers arrived to help with the general labouring.
In that first week there was only me, the two fundraising coordinators, and the English appointed site manager representing the charity, the rest of the workforce were local Ugandans working on the project at that time.

Finding a New Confidence

I had expected to have to prove myself, due to the fact that I was the only woman in the group, and had been used to doing so back in the UK, in fact. I thought this would be even more true, seeing that we were in a developing country. But I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The Uganda philosophy seemed to be that the person with the most knowledge should be in charge, regardless of gender, race, or even position! It was the first time I felt that I was being judged on merit alone – and it was very liberating. It let me get on with the task in hand with a new confidence that I felt grow as the project developed.
The Ugandans responded well to my style of management. I preferred to discuss with them the ways we would carry out a project in the UK and the decide if this could be applied to some of the practices they were currently using. We found a number of examples where we could improve upon Ugandan techniques, and a number of others where environmental factors meant that British systems of working would simply fail. We therefore adapted as was beneficial to the project, consulting and using local knowledge, qualified experience, and occasionally even trial and error.

Learning New Values

The six weeks I spent building that school taught me a lot – not only about the usual things you imagine to learn from time spent in a developing country, such as appreciation for free health and education and the richness of being so welcomed into another culture.
But also being able to work in a positive environment, where we were all working towards the same goal together, helped show me the power of effective partnership working, respect, and consultation. I still visit Keyo as much as possible, and my friends, who were once my co-workers, tell me how they want me to come back and teach them more, they show me how they have used my “good plans” on other buildings and the structural improvements that this has had on them.
I strongly feel that the local Ugandan focus on what’s best for the end users, the rejection of prejudice, and the willingness to cooperate were all things I learnt a little bit more about, and that my industry could benefit from learning a little bit more about too.
Founded by ex site manager Chrissi McCarthy, Constructing Equality is the UK’s leading construction specific equality and diversity consultant and training provider. We believe that equality is important, but not to the detriment of the business. That’s why we make sure that we only advise and deliver work that’s reasonable, practical and workable.

How diverse is the construction industry??

Currently the UK construction sector is second only to the gas and petrochemical industry for its lack of diversity. Whilst different statistical sources vary slightly on the exact figure, they agree that the numbers in relation to diversity remain low, so low in fact that the law enables us to use positive action to counteract the negative effects of such an unrepresented workforce.
To fully understand each of the minority groups we shall split them up into their protected characteristics and consider not just their overall representation but also how this is reflected in the roles that they hold and their retention rate.

Before we do though it should be explained that there are a number of protected characteristics, nine in fact now that the new equality act has come into play, that cannot be discriminated against. These are Age, disability, Gender Reassignment, Marriage and Civil Partnership, Pregnancy and maternity, Race, Religion or belief, Sex, Sexual orientation.
Let’s consider each of them within the context of the built environment examining just some of the key points.
Age – Research has found that in construction those under 35 are often considered too young whilst those who have not achieved a senior level by 45 can be considered too old. It is widely noted that those over 50 seeking work have greater difficulty in obtaining it and whilst the perception is that this age range is inflexible and rigid the evidence proves otherwise finding them to be the most versatile group.
Age can also be effected indirectly, for example the average age for a woman to enter the construction industry is 26, whilst most traineeships and apprentices are catering for the 16-19 group meaning there are less opportunities from an age perspective.
With an ageing population we need to be sure as an industry that we are not adding to the already looming skills shortage, for example one third of RICS members are aged 55 and over, if we are opting not to employ those that are made redundant we may have difficulty recruiting once the recession ends and we are again looking for people, without a solid skill base to pass on information we may add to the already existing skills shortage.
Disability – This is an area that can get tricky due to a common tendency to consider disability as a stereotypical form e.g. wheelchair users, blindness etc. In fact disability is a wide spectrum that includes mental health, dyslexia and back problems. In face the government definition is
                “In the Act, a person has a disability if:
·         they have a physical or mental impairment
·         the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities
For the purposes of the Act, these words have the following meanings:
·         'substantial' means more than minor or trivial
·         'long-term' means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months (there are special rules covering recurring or fluctuating conditions)
·         'normal day-to-day activities' include everyday things like eating, washing, walking and going shopping
People who have had a disability in the past that meets this definition are also protected by the Act. “ Direct Government Website

We know that 14% of employees in the construction industry consider themselves disabled in some way this is compared with 19% of the total working age population. I would be interested in understanding this statistics a little more. For example what percentage of these disabilities are brought about by the industry themselves? In 2009 construction as an industry employed 4% of the UK workforce, yet it was responsible for 12% of reported non fatal accidents. As the most dangerous major sector for both fatalities and not fatal injuries I believe his is a serious point that may be masking issues in our recruitment procedures.

Gender Reassignment, gender reassignment has been given its own standing after being slotted into either gender or sexual orientation historically. As a new characteristic there is currently no evidence regarding percentages in the construction industry, even under its previous headings the statistical data did not exist. Our own conversations with employers have found they are reluctant to ask individuals about this area, and they feel individuals in turn are reluctant to tell.
Marriage and Civil Partnership, Another new protected characteristic, and a welcome one at that as something was needed to improve upon exiting regulation and protect the new civil partnerships.  I doubt this will have much impact on construction as an industry as those with civil partnerships are still not likely to inform their employers hopefully this legislation help change that in time.
Pregnancy and maternity,  with only a small representation of women in industry (see gender) and this being a new characteristic there is little data on this area at he moment.
Race, The current proportion of non white ethnic minorities currently working in the UK construction industry is 3.3% that compares with 7.9% of the working population. What’s more interesting here is the distribution of that 3.3% which would seem significantly dependent upon geographical distribution. For example Norfolk only has 15 non white construction trainees compared with Oldhams 12%. It is important then that we consider these numbers in context what is reflective in one area may well be underachieving in another. Overall the national average of non white ethnic minorities represented in the professions vary at the lowest managers have only 1.5% representation and QS’s 2.8%. Architectural technologists and Civil engineers on the other hand fair better with 5.5%. There is also evidence that the number Black Minority Ethnics (BME) in training is increasing though this rise has not be transferred over to the workplace, again retention would appear to be a key in raising diversity levels. There is little to go on to record what representation there is in the trades but overall it would appear that there is a higher proportion of BME representation in low skilled roles such as security guards, it should also be noted that overall here is a lack of representation in senior posts.
Religion or belief, Currently none of the Institutes monitor religion or belief so to gain a picture regarding the makeup of industry is very difficult to do. This is another area that requires more work.
Sex, The construction industry is a male dominated industry, in fact only 13% of the industry is made up of women. That statistic can then be broken down into the roles those women play where we find the 83% of women working in construction work in administarial roles with 13% in design and management  3% self employed and less than 1% in the trades. The picture doesn’t brighten when we look up the majority of construction boards are not represented by women outside of the traditional areas such as marketing, HR and Finance. So with more and more women entering themselves on construction courses every year it really is time organisations considered where they are all going. Countless papers have agreed on the leaky pipe syndrome that women leave the industry disproportionately throughout their careers, the most common reason behind this being workplace culture and covert discrimination.
Sexual orientation, This is another area that has not been monitored and therefore there is very little research in construction specifically, but general research across the workforce finds two thirds of homosexual and bisexual people face discrimination in the workplace.
Socio Economic Disadvantage This area has been introduced as a an area for public authorities to consider when drawing up their strategies. It does not currently have an implication on the private workforce.
Of course this small area alone is complex and I would love to hear you views opinions, thoughts, experiences and even research. If you want further reading everything we have talked about can be found in our research page.
Look forward to next month’s blog when we look at the differing cases for working on diversity.
Till next month take care,
Chrissi x  


I have been writing a blog post for TCN and thought it would be a good idea to give it its own space so that I could share photos and oher blogs I occasionally write for online mags upon request.

Below is the first blog I wrote for TCN outlining why I would be writing!

When Ryan asked me to manage the Equality and Diversity community here at TCN I jumped at the chance to be part of a new and exciting social networking tool, especially one that sees improving diversity as an important step forward for our magnificent industry.

When we talked about this group we decided that we wanted to create a place where people could find practical, experienced and factual advice relevant to equality and diversity in the UK construction industry, which is why I shall be writing a monthly blog exploring some of the barriers, issues and providing solutions!

On that note I should really introduce myself, my name is Chrissi McCarthy and I’m the director of Constructing Equality the UKs leading construction specific consultancy and training provider. I spent over ten years working in construction mainly as a site manager before deciding to turn my attention to equality and diversity in the industry.

Of course Equality and diversity is a broad area encompassing many subjects such as law, community engagement and change management to name a few. So I would agree with anyone who said simply being a female ex site manager is not qualification enough!

In fact that’s the reason why I undertook my MA in promoting Equality and managing diversity to ensure that I had an in-depth understanding of both the construction industry and the diversity sector. If you want to know more you can find out all about me at

Each blog will be posted in the first week of the month and the topics I will cover in the next 6 months are

Nov – The current make up of the UK construction industry in terms of diversity
Dec – The different cases for diversity, business, legal, social and wider economic
Jan – Is diversity beneficial to business – the proof behind the business case
Feb – What is the equality act?
March – What is positive action and how can I use it?
April – How to improve diversity in your organisation.

The blogs/discussions will rely on case studies, academic research, testimonies, experience and current practice to provide you with relevant and useful information.

Feel free to join tCn's equality & diversity community to add you comments, experiences and general musings to the discussion board its always great to find out about how other people perceive the industry, after all we can’t talk for everyone!

I hope you enjoy the blogs and find them useful, If there is an area you would like us to cover please let us know and we will schedule it in and if you want to get in touch with me directly either contact me on here or send an email to

You can also sign up to our free monthly newsletter which aims to keep you informed about equality and diversity news in the sector go to