“Stand up, do a twirl for me.”* That was said to me at around 10:30am on a weekday, whilst I was sat at my desk among colleagues. The thought still raises my blood pressure. The silver lining to this moment was the realisation that there was no chance that any of my male colleagues would even dream of saying that to me. The construction industry has changed on such a scale that any male in our business would be ashamed of making such a comment. The problem? Not all the women appear to have caught up with this standard. This is a theme that comes up on a regular basis across my colleagues and some friends.
The amount of times women in the workplace are asked if they are okay or tired when going make-up free is notable; I’m reassured in a way to know that I’m not the only one. A friend also shared with me that she once arrived at work to realise that she had only put eye shadow and mascara on one eye; not the slickest look in the world, but only the women reacted. Laurie Cohen, a professor at Nottingham Business School, recently wrote a brilliant piece for the Guardian about womens workspaces that will no doubt resonate with many, highlighting the importance of being comfortable at work.
I’m not saying that all men in business are perfect beacons of gender equality; far from it. With such crucial campaigns like Everyday Sexism engaging more and more people, the establishment of the Women’s Equality Party, the global success of He for She, the need to do more is ever increasing. Surely organisations with the clout that national companies have on steering the culture and values that drive the national identity should be playing more of a role in enabling this gender balance?
Stripping it back one step further; shouldn’t everyone responsible for the impression and identity of that company be doing everything in their power to ensure the same standards apply for everyone? A culture where people are made to feel uncomfortable for being themselves at any point in the day; that has to change.
As a business, our Executive Chairman Paul Hodgkinson set a target over 15 years ago to get to the point where we have a 50:50 workplace. In the construction industry, that is no mean feat; we are over the 30% mark, but still have a long way to go in attracting the best women we can into the industry. We will keep going and for the fantastic women in the business now, we continue to wave the flag and make sure people across the Group know that complete equality is our aim.
We hosted a few events for International Women’s Day earlier in the year, simply to raise awareness and create discussions, this included weekly Pilates session. From the start there was a mixed group and that showed so many others the importance of a balanced workplace. The mixed attendance has continued in every session and the waiting list grows.
*For the record, I did not do a twirl.