Times are chang­ing for women in the in­dus­try

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News - Bymichel­leatkin­son, Atkin­son­sur­vey­ing

The con­struc­tion and prop­erty sec­tors are still closely as­so­ci­ated with gen­der im­bal­ance in the work­place but, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to new en­trants to the in­dus­try, per­cep­tions are rapidly chang­ing.

The diver­sity of ca­reer paths avail­able is grow­ing. Many more roles now ex­ist which can be per­formed equally well by ei­ther sex as well as a host of other sub­sidiary roles which feed into the in­dus­try.

Women can of­ten bring a new skill set and a fresh ap­proach to th­ese his­tor­i­cally male dom­i­nated roles. De­spite the re­cent lengthy re­ces­sion and con­tin­u­ing anx­i­ety over Brexit, con­struc­tion and prop­erty sec­tors in both the UK and Ire­land con­tinue to cre­ate ex­cit­ing and po­ten­tially very lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties for all.

One chal­lenge, how­ever, which women should not have to face is misog­yny. Con­struc­tion and prop­erty, sadly, still have one of the worst rep­u­ta­tions of any field in re­la­tion to ha­rass­ment of women.

This can be sub­tle or bla­tant, but al­ways results in the re­cip­i­ent feel­ing un­com­fort­able, dis­re­spected and un­der­val­ued. Whether she has to en­dure a dose of so-called male ‘ locker-room talk’, fend off clumsy un­wanted ad­vances from a male boss, or (as I have per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced) en­counter a client who de­mands a male re­place­ment, any fe­male work­ing within the in­dus­try to­day will have her own ex­am­ples of woe­fully sex­ist be­hav­iour in the work­place.

That said, there is a tan­gi­ble sense of change in the air and I have per­son­ally been en­cour­aged by an at­ti­tude shift in many of the younger men in the in­dus­try.

Two young male agents re­cently showed sup­port for a fe­male col­league when they over­heard their male man­ager ver­bally ha­rass her. They ap­peared gen­uinely shocked and im­me­di­ately re­ported him de­spite their ju­nior po­si­tions.

Thank­fully the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in this in­dus­try are de­cent hu­man be­ings. But sex­ual ha­rass­ment can eas­ily be per­pet­u­ated ‘when good peo­ple do noth­ing’ (to para­phrase Ed­mund Burke).

Em­ploy­ers too have an im­por­tant role. The much dis­cussed gen­der pay gap ex­ists in large part be­cause women his­tor­i­cally have not filled the higher paid roles within the in­dus­try.

In this post-we­in­stein era, it is in­cum­bent upon em­ploy­ers to make their top po­si­tions more at­trac­tive and more at­tain­able for women by look­ing se­ri­ously at flexible work­ing, by pro­mot­ing a gen­der neu­tral work­place and by ex­hibit­ing zero tol­er­ance of sex­ism.

Diver­sity should be em­bed­ded as part of the busi­ness strat­egy of any com­pany so that all em­ploy­ees feel val­ued, thrive in their work en­vi­ron­ment and are judged purely on their pro­fes­sional at­tributes, drive and hard work.

I would urge younger women think­ing about their fu­ture em­ploy­ment to re­mem­ber that their ca­reer path does not al­ways have to be lin­ear.

Arts grad­u­ates, for in­stance, may feel that they do not have any ap­ti­tude for a role in the con­struc­tion or prop­erty sec­tors.

How­ever, they of­ten have highly de­sir­able and trans­fer­able skills which can be utilised in a whole va­ri­ety of roles. It is im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing to be part of a team which has made a large project hap­pen.

Do not be dis­suaded by the idea of be­ing one of very few fe­males in the in­dus­try. This is al­ready chang­ing fast. There is strength in num­bers and you can be part of the so­lu­tion.

Strive for a high stan­dard of ex­cel­lence and aim to be­come an ex­pert in your par­tic­u­lar cho­sen area. Work hard, be re­silient and be am­bi­tious.

The re­wards, both fi­nan­cial and per­sonal, are con­sid­er­able. Yes, there are a few of those misog­y­nis­tic di­nosaurs still roam­ing the con­struc­tion sites and the prop­erty fields.

But, when the cli­mate be­gan to change, we all know what hap­pened to the di­nosaurs. Michelle Atkin­son sits on the Royal In­sti­tu­tion of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors (RICS) North­ern Ire­land Re­gional Board and is the owner of Atkin­son Sur­vey­ing in Belfast

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