Women In…

Tricky subject this, and it’s gone through my mind several times that I shouldn’t air my opinions so openly. Nevertheless, I’m keen to better understand the topic and would welcome an alternative standpoint.

So here’s the question:

Do events aimed at “Women in…” help to address the gender divide which continues to exist in the construction industry?

and here is my answer:

“Women In…” events are counter-productive in addressing sexism as they are serving to enhance the gender gap by discriminating against men.

In order to back that up, I should say that have one experience of a “Women In…” event and I didn’t find it useful. I was made to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed at the level of negativity towards men.

I can’t help but think that if there was an event aimed solely at “Men in…” there would be an outcry.

Of course I am aware of the gender issue in the construction industry so I ensure I network as actively as my male colleagues. I attend as many events as possible (providing the subject matter is something i’m interested in) and in doing so, I feel I am representing women in a positive way and am making myself seen and heard.

I also Chair the West Midlands Forum for Tomorrow which is linked with the Forum for the Built Environment – a networking forum for “emerging” professionals in the construction industry and beyond.

I would love to hear some examples of positive experiences from women in the industry (and beyond) who have attended a “Women In…” event or are actively involved in a “Women In…” network.

– –
Update: 28th November 2010

Thanks to all the people who left comments against this post.  The mixture of responses formed a broad level of opinion which was really useful.

On the back of the comments, I felt I should give ‘Women only’ events another chance – one bad experience shouldn’t tar other events with the same brush. So I went along to a Women Working In Construction event held at Urban Coffee Co. In actual fact I’d been dreading it – the thought of a room full of just women was far more intimidating to me than a mixed group and I felt more nervous than usual about walking into a room full of strangers.  In actual fact I received a warm and friendly welcome (perhaps they’d read my blog!) and I found chatting to my fellow networking ladies came easily.

I came away with a couple of new contacts and I’d learned a little more about the speakers’ journeys into the construction industry, which is always interesting, however, the overriding feeling was that this had been no different to the usual ‘mixed’ events. On that basis I shared my confusion via a tweet which concluded: “why bother segregating?”.

On reflection, something else had become apparent. There were one or two ladies who admitted on the night that they have an issue with confidence and for them, developing networking skills in an environment that they are comfortable in, before ‘graduating’ to mixed events is a really important part of their personal development skills.  It probably sounds arrogant, but I don’t have too much of an issue with confidence, so this isn’t a problem that I have to tackle.

To conclude, “Women In” events are useful for some women. Just not that useful for me.


7 thoughts on “Women In…

  1. http://www.melstarrs.com/elemental/2006/05/09/women-in-property/
    Lorna – an issue I struggle with too – here’s an blog post I wrote many moons ago on it.
    In these straitened times, I’m more inclined to use any network I can to leverage opportunities (sorry for the MBA speak – it slips out occasionally) – so if my meeting up with fellow WiP members means I get to hear of an opportunity that others who didn’t attend don’t, then I won’t knock it. I also attend Sponge events. All groups have a common interest or factor which defines them, otherwise they wouldn’t be a group. You could argue that Sponge excludes all built environment professionals who don’t have an interest in sustainability, but is that worse than excluding men in property? Women in Property have a cohesion because as a group they face similar challenges that men maybe don’t.

    That said, I still wince at it. I’m firmly on the fence on the issue (as usual).

  2. I’ve attended a few ‘Women in…’ events – none of which have been negative towards men & I’ve found invaluable. I’ve also been lucky enough to have had in-depth conversations with a couple of fantastic women CEOs on the topic who’ve talked of the value they’ve found in such networks & mentoring arrangements.

    One bad event doesn’t negate the need or value of others with similar aims.

  3. I dont work in your sector but I do have a personal view from the perspective of someone in education and before that in a small business. I think that any network can be useful, if it is helpful to the group and positive about the activities it wants to support. I attended a women in business network for a while and found it to be excellent at supporting and encouraging women – no discussions about men – just focused on developing skills, confidence and networks. Many industries are under represented by women and/or many women feel they lack confidence in aspects of their work, sometimes because they are returning to work after a long time out to have kids etc. In general business you’ll also find networks and events aimed at young people, Asian businesses etc… I dont think they are about being negative in relation to those who are not included in the group. I wonder if your experience is specific to your sector or even a one off?

  4. I run a mile if I see events or awards aimed at Women. I find them offensive, sexist and patronising. To me, adding the Women tag signifies that the event/award is somehow inferior. I suspect it’s a marketing technique anyway. “Wait, I’m a woman, I should go to this event.”

    We need to tackle why women don’t go to the (-Women) Awards or Events. The answer to (actual or percieved) exclusivity in the world is not exclusivity in the opposite direction, it’s inclusivity in existing places.

    I wrote a post along similar lines at http://www.catnipmusic.co.uk/2010/03/24/ada-lovelace-day/

  5. If womens networks and organizations in business can exist to help promote professional development within these industries, like construction or design, then surely this can help address inequalities such as the pay gap between men and women, that is worse
    in the UK than the rest of the EU according to the TUC.

    I think there is a case for Positive Discrimination for women in some industries, where women are underrepresented. Old Boy attitudes still exist, where it is considered that to employ a woman of child bearing age is to take a risk with your business; and employers whilst careful not to acknowledge, will consider this when making choices in recruitment.

    That said I don’t think this is about burning bras, but taking carefully considered decisions about how to network and promote yourself within your profession, and gender offers no advantage here.

    There are genuine concerns and barriers that effect the progression of women in business, which are covered in this article about Women in the Arts by Arts Professional site: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/Magazine/view.cfm?id=5251&issue=228

    They spoke to members of the Arts Marketing Association who has just appointed it’s first ever Female Chair, and the association represents an industry with a female majority.

  6. I’ve wrestled with this one too. I think my answer is that we need organisations out there to promote and campaign for a better female presence in the construction sector but that doesn’t have to be simply through “women only” events. Running my own business I’m often invited to women only networking events and I have not really enjoyed these. Part of me feels like it is a sort of sub-sector and suggests that we can’t operate in a mixed environment.

    Saying that the level of women in architecture is appallingly low. Rather smugly Landscape Architecture has moved to being about equal and it would be interesting to explore how this has been achieved.

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