Construction should be more representative of society
Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, CIOB Past President Rebecca Thompson explains why construction can only bring even greater benefits to the public if it is truly representative of wider society.
I became a member of the CIOB in 2009 because I recognised that being part of a professional body would give me the opportunity to make the industry I love, and have dedicated my career to, even better.
Although I saw where I could thrive in construction, it wasn’t without its barriers. When I first stepped on a site, there were no facilities for me and, oddly, I didn’t fancy using the men’s toilets. That statement sounds outrageous now but at the time female facilities were rarely required. It was a clear example to me that, just by being there, I was making a difference and highlighting how the smallest changes could open new opportunities.
I took advantage of my membership and I became chair of the Leeds Regional Committee and a member of the Yorkshire Branch Committee. I just wanted to shape the future of the CIOB, I had no idea that decision would ever lead to my role as President! I simply wanted to be a voice of change and, at times, challenge.
To be truly inclusive, we need to change our attitudes and not settle for anything less than equality for all in our industry, and that means leading by example as the CIOB. We regularly discuss as a sector how we have a shortage of workers, yet rarely do we put two and two together that if we make diversity a priority, more people will see a home for them here. We should be the loudest advocates for diversity in our sector, demonstrating that diversity is welcomed because that is what, as a professional body, we’re here for.
The CIOB’s Royal Charter defines its objectives as:
- The promotion for the public benefit of the science and practice of building and construction
- The advancement of public education in the said science and practice
Can we truly benefit the public if we don’t represent them all? We’ve already made strides in our support of getting ex-Armed Forces into employment, reaching out into classrooms with the My Kinda Future challenge, and supporting industry platforms, such as the Women in Construction awards. Yet we are still seeing challenges from access to buildings not accommodating wheelchairs or buggies for parents, to working hours not being flexible to encourage workers to take on caring roles.
Last year I shared a map to give a flavour of the different interest routes you can take to a career in construction. Those routes are open to everyone; regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, and socio-economic status. As a professional body, the CIOB must be at the forefront of showing that is the case, and we need our members to help us.
I feel privileged to be able to use my title of Past President as a springboard to talk about the merits of membership and the importance of professional bodies. We need to use our membership to lead by example for the construction industry.
Over the last decade we’ve been led by Presidents with brilliant academic minds, like that of the late Professor Li Shirong and our senior Vice President Professor Charles Egbu. We’ve also been led by those with outstanding on-the-job roots, like that of current President Chris Soffe, who have worked up from the tools and shown the opportunities our industry provides for you to thrive whatever route you take. The past ten years have seen our first Presidents from the US, Middle East and China, also demonstrating that your ethnicity and cultural background is welcome here and we truly are a global organisation campaigning for the benefit of all.
That’s not to say our industry doesn’t still have challenges. Our membership may have risen to over 45,000 people but, in 2017, women still only made up 7% - that’s not reflective of the people our industry is here to serve. Can we truly benefit the public if we only represent a small percentage of who they are?
Any route you take into construction, from whatever background, can bring you to the CIOB. Join us and take the opportunity to influence and shape our industry to make it better for those coming up behind you.
I’m really looking forward to reading the CIOB blog on International Women’s Day (8th March) this week which will hear from our Novus Manchester committee. These women are showing what the future of this industry could, and should, look like. It’s also great that we’ll be hearing from Chris Keast FCIOB, the Chair of the CIOB’s Diversity SIG, who throughout his 25+ years in this industry has been an advocate and vital voice in raising awareness of how much more we need to do to make the built environment, and CIOB membership, truly inclusive.