International Women’s Day – Is the Wind Changing?

Today is International Women’s Day. Many, especially women, ask whether there is a need for this day. Are we not discriminating against our gender, focusing on how we are not in fact equal to men? It is easy to forget, especially for us millennials living in the Western world, how far gender equality has come since the early 1900’s when the day was first celebrated.

We take for granted matters such as our right to vote, our right to have our own income, to drive, to divorce out of an unhappy marriage.

But even in a multicultural metropolis such as London women are faced with discrimination every day. Our industry, the construction industry, has a particularly bad reputation when it comes to the way women are treated.  Let’s face it, the construction industry is dominated by men with all that comes with it. From the inappropriate jokes well embedded within ‘old boy’ culture, to the ridicule and belittling that some women have been subjected to when working as a trade on site, it is safe to say that all of us have been subjected to some kind of sexism in our careers. But is this really exclusive to the construction industry? Most probably not, although the construction industry has somewhat been a late bloomer when it comes to welcoming women into the profession. Whilst law and banking have seen women rising the ranks for decades, during the 80’s in the construction industry seeing a woman perform anything but an administrative role would have been a rare sight.

Next week we are preparing to attend MIPIM. Arguably the most important event in the property industry, and notorious for being dominated by men, who often form a sea of suits pouring out from Cafe’ Roma along the promenade, and allegedly the only women to be seen are the unsavory types walking the Criosette at night…

Image result for mipim suits

Spot the woman…

I must say that my personal experience of MIPIM has been very different. This will be the 4th year that I attend, and in this relatively short period of time I have noticed a great degree of change in female attendance at MIPIM. In MIPIM 2014, the first MIPIM where things were almost back into full swing after the recession, it was true, there were very few women. 15% if I had to guesstimate. However that year I noticed a certain protectiveness from my fellow male delegates. Mildly misogynistic some may say, but gentlemanly and courteous in my view. Fast forward to MIPIM 2016 and the situation was completely different. A number of bright dresses and flowing hair peppered the usual sea of grey/blue/black suits. The MIPIM Ladies event was so busy that year that the venue could barely contain us all, and the Women in Property Breakfast was also a full house. The Pramerica Ladies drinks is also always a highlight in the ‘pink’ MIPIM calendar. Having attended several pre-MIPIM 2017 networking drinks I was pleased to see that for the first time the male/female ratio was close to 50:50. I  have a feeling that this year’s MIPIM will be the best yet when it comes to female attendance. And beyond the attendance, women at MIPIM in this day and age are treated equally to, if not even a little better than other men. A bit of welcome positive discrimination if you like…

Outside the bubble of MIPIM it is not to say that women in construction do not still have a long way to go and a lot to fight for. In construction the gender pay gap is 45%, much higher than the national average of 18%. Not negotiating higher starting salaries, and difficulty to return to work full time after maternity leave may be to blame. Women only account for 12.8% of the total workforce. Construction is rarely ever presented as a career option to girls in schools, and there is a general lack of understanding concerning the different roles and career paths available.

Associations such as Chicks with Bricks, NAWIC (National Association for Women in Construction) and Women in Property are making strides in progressing women’s standing in the industry.

NAWIC site visit

NAWIC site visit

Here at Rise 35% of our staff are female. Although we do not practice any kind of positive discrimination, we can clearly see the advantages mixed gender teams bring to a project and the work environment in general. We have set ourselves the challenge of having women on our board by 2020.

International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action. I would call out to all the wonderful women I know in the construction industry to reflect on how we can fight our individual fights on the path to true gender equality. And men, please take a moment to celebrate the women on your teams and in your lives, and support them in their daily battles.

#BeBoldForChange

Nathalie Duncan-Sletten
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Nathalie Duncan-Sletten

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