Construction boards need better gender-balance, urges Lowe

4 March 2011

All companies in the construction sector are being urged to set and publish targets for the number of women in their boardrooms in their annual reports.

The call, from CITB-ConstructionSkills deputy chair Judy Lowe, echoes the recommendation in last week's government report “Women on board” by former banker Lord Davies.

But while the report itself concentrated on the UK's top 350 companies, Lowe said she hoped the initiative would spread further down the ranks.

Lowe, who has non-executive director roles at Bovis, Barhale Construction and Mott MacDonald on her CV, said: “The focus a few years ago was on the FTSE Top 100, which has increased the number of women directors by 4% in 7 years – it's now 12.5%.

But in the Top 250, it's just 7.5%. I hope this initiative will spread to the rest of the corporate sector, and that construction companies will pick up the spirit of the report and not just say 'it's all too difficult'.”

The report stopped short of imposing a legal requirement on boards to increase female  representation, a move that has had significant impact on boardrooms in France and Norway.

But it recommends that the chairs of FTSE 350 companies should set out the percentage of women they aim to have on their boards by 2013, with FTSE 100 boards aiming for a minimum of 25%.

If companies fail to make progress, Lord Davies noted that the government retained the option of imposing legally-binding quotas.

Lowe, a specialist in corporate strategy, has undertaken her own research into women on construction boards, finding that non-British companies Skanska and Bouygues fared best, with four women directors each.

As for measures that would help companies appoint more women, she pointed to a woman-only executive mentoring programme at Bovis, where she formerly sat on the board. 

“Contrary to perceptions, maternity issues aren't the biggest problem – it's more that because there are numerically fewer women, when they move up the company they tend to become invisible [as a group].  When you get them together, as Bovis did, they're a powerful force in any company.”

She also endorsed the idea of “positive action” to support women in their careers. “Women graduates are recruited on the same pay as men, but they quickly fall behind. Women tend not to push for promotion, or push themselves forward as men do. One guy said to me 'I thought I was due promotion, so I went to the boss's office every day for three weeks until he gave in'.”

“If companies are finding that women don't apply to join them, or join and then don't stay, they need to look at themselves first so that women will want to stay and build their careers,” she said.


What is the colour of the sky on this woman's planet?
Forget the large contractors where the directors are every bit employees. Does she not realise that the majority of the companies involved in construction are small, ofter family-led entities, where the directors are involved in the day-to-day operation of the companies, without the luxury of outside non-executive Directors who place an unnecessary and unsustainable drain on the Company's resources.
What the Industry needs is a diminution in red tape, ignorant interference, usually Guardianista-led, politically-inspired, and a return to proper apprenticeship training.
Apprenticeships began to decline in the '70s when the Big Boys, in an effort to appease the then powerful Unions, agreed to shorter apprenticeships, and an apprentice starting at 45% of an Operative's rate.
This was disaster for the Industry, resulting in the drastic loss of Trade Skills which we are left with and the massive trend toward 'Brass-Plate' companies who don't train, don't have yards or workshops.
Until we as an Industry come to terms with this, and press for a review of legislation, and more importantly, Industry thinking, we shall continue in this sorry state of affairs.
Luckily CIOB still have an apprenticeship progression to Chartered Status, but the other major institutes, or should I say Institutions, have moved towards Honours Degree entry.


Robert Gavin , 12 March 2011

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