Chrissi McCarthy's diversity blog: taking up the Davies Report challenge

4 March 2011

You may or may not be aware that last week, Lord Mervyn Davies published Women on boards. The report looked at every sector of the economy, but it’s certainly true that construction needs more women at board level. That’s my opinion, of course, but I did form it after reading a shed load of research, so I consider it an informed one.

I have never been able to get over the clear correlation between the challenges identified by both Egan and Latham, and the changes that occur when increasing the number of women in the workplace, especially at board level.

That, and the tiny fact that more than 30% female representation on boards increases profit and productivity significantly too (according to international lobbying group Catalyst). Companies can expect a higher return on sales, on invested capital, and significant improvements on equality (according to McKinsey and Company's Women Matter reports, published annually 2007-2010).

I hear from construction companies saying that they cannot find the right women, that women don’t  put themselves forward and women don’t have the skills. But then women keep telling me that they don’t get offered the opportunities, can't see how they would fit on an all-male board and are held back from gaining the required skills.

Somewhere in all of this we have got ourselves into a right muddle, but there is also huge opportunity for industry. If we worked as a whole, to not just take up the challenge set by Lord Davis to achieve 25% representation by 2015, but to try and beat it by making construction the first industry to achieve 30%, this would not only bring the business benefits of a well represented board to organizations but raise the industry's profile and show a move away from the outdated stereotype of construction as a “man’s world.”

It’s a lot to ask but I think we could do it; after all we manage to navigate PQQ’s, client expectations and framework requirements. This should be a walk in the park right?

If you decide to adopt the challenge let us know so we can let everyone else know, and for those with a budget for these things, why not find out more about Constructing Equality's balanced board program to help you on your way.

For everyone else, here are our top five tips.

1. We promote in our own image because we usually think our views are right. Don’t get me wrong: some are less vocal about it (not everyone has time to write a blog) and others do try and seek new knowledge to ensure fully rounded opinions. But on the whole we like the people that agree with us.

We shouldn’t think this is a conscious decision - it’s usually not - and unless we are aware of this and realize when it is happening, it’s likely that we will continue to repeat the same patterns and consider different viewpoints as weak when making appointments. To move forward, companies need to ensure that boards and recruiters are aware of the right agendas when undergoing the recruitment process.

2. Whilst the pot isn’t currently over-flowing, there are women looking to take the step to board level. Many are in your own companies, it’s just that something has gotten in the way, be that confidence, workplace barriers, caring responsibilities etc. With the right systems in place, you can find and up-skill these women. What’s more it’s very likely that the confidence boost will have a knock-on effect to their performance in their day to day jobs too.

3. When looking for non-executive candidates, it's worth examining your contacts, and looking to see how diverse they are. With the majority of appointments never advertised, women often don’t get a look in due to the male-centric experience that is construction networking. I would urge you to expand your networks, not only to other sectors that have a stronger representation of women at senior level, but also to consider the huge number of talented individuals who could not achieve their goals within a traditional construction firm and have started up on own businesses. You only need to look to the recent presidents of the ICE, IStrutE and RIBA to see my point [Ed: Respectively, Jean Venables, Sarah Buck and Ruth Reed all set up their own consultancies.]

4. Research has found that when there are less than three women on a board they are still likely to be considered “tokens”, often by themselves as well as their fellow board members. This is regardless of how they got there, i.e. by quota or not. Only once 3 women have been appointed will numbers outweigh the tokenism issue and you can start to see real change happen.

5. Appoint who you need, not who you want. Look at the areas your board currently lacks. If  you have 12 senior directors, will another bring anything fresh to the table? Might there be some benefit in bringing in some one at middle management or even operational level to gain a more rounded view of the company? Please note that if you chose to do this, the  individuals should undergo appropriate training on dealing with boardroom situations.

I look forward to hearing from those of you brave enough to undertake the challenge.


Chrissi McCarthy MCIOB runs Constructing Equality, a training provider and consultancy specialising in equality and diversity in the construction sector. She blogs at


Yet again we hear about women complaining about a lack of numbers at high level. Funny how we don't hear women complaining about the lack of female coal miners, steelworkers, shipbuilders, site labourers, road workers, refuse collectors etc. If women want equality it should be across the board and not just in the glamour jobs. Incidentally before I get called sexist, is it not sexist to make comments such as "men shouldn't be nurses, checkout assistants or cleaners"?

Simon Barton, 9 March 2011

Hey Simon, thanks for the message. I only work in construction but I believe in balance across sectors, research shows that's when we are most productive! And have a look at WAMT if you want to see women trying for jobs at the ground levels as you suggested, there really is a lot of women who want those opportunities too. Mostly though this isn't an 'us and them' situation in terms of gender, my main concern is the image, efficiency and future of the industry, which a greater balance at all levels will help us improve.
Warm regards

Chrissi, 9 March 2011

"I hear from construction companies saying that they cannot find the right women, that women don’t put themselves forward and women don’t have the skills. But then women keep telling me that they don’t get offered the opportunities, can't see how they would fit on an all-male board and are held back from gaining the required skills."

It is a shame that we have got into this rather messy situation; however I think the opportunities are there for women, should they choose to take advantage of the opportunities there. I agree that with more women across the board, productivity would increase in this industry, and improve efficiency.

Sam Woodward, 10 October 2011

Leave a comment