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Sexism and Construction

Recently, I was unwittingly embroiled in a sexism scandal – having been subjected to ‘sexist' jokes at an industry event.

I have to admit, it didn’t register with me but as the resulting controversy unfolded it did get me thinking – are discussions at this level worth it?

To me, he was just a rubbish comedian, each joke as poor as the last.  So, in the grand scheme of things – was this a battle worth picking?

I've worked in the construction industry for almost 20 years both in-house and agency side.  Over this time, I've been subjected to the odd ‘sexist' comment, generally masked as a compliment – as most females are in the industry.  In fact, as most females are, in all industries.  But importantly, I have never felt discriminated against, I have never felt held back and I have never felt intimidated – but I realise there are those that have.

And so, by lumping this behaviour together do we risk undermining the real issue?  Sexist jokes, lewd comments and the objectification of women are societal issues, why load them onto the construction industry?  Should we not be concentrating on overcoming the barriers that are unique to us?  Why aren't women becoming engineers or project managers?  I doubt it's because they are worried about sexist jokes.  The truth is, they don't identify with roles within the construction industry – and we need to do something to change that.

It's a big ask.  Sadly, many young girls today want to be on X-Factor, become a WAG or a reality TV star, they identify with the female roles that the media portrays.  Can you think of one TV show or film that has a female working in the construction industry?  There's George Clarke, Kevin McCloud, Craig Phillips, even Handy Andy back in the day - but no-one for young girls to identify with.  Marks & Spencer gave it a go – with engineer Roma Agrawal featuring in its campaign of inspiring women - but we've a long way to go.

What we really need is HBO to produce a programme about ambitious, successful women in construction – that could do for female engineers what Ally McBeal did for female lawyers.  And whilst we wait for that miracle… let's focus less on the reasons why women might not go into construction and more on why a lot of women do:  We need to understand the key influences and build on this. 

In my mind, dumbing the issue down to ‘sexism' is actually just as sexist – and I can't help but think that we'd be better instilling the confidence in women to really not care about any narrow-minded attitudes they come across and just get on with the job.

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