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Construction industry must stop sexualising women


Showgirls were an inappropriate choice of entertainment for UK Construction Week, says Angela Dapper

I don’t have a problem with showgirls. I do have an issue when an overtly sexualised image is used for marketing my industry.

We should be aspiring towards an industry that is welcoming, diverse and supportive. The use of showgirls at a construction event achieves the opposite, it reinforces that construction is a man’s world.

There are a number of reasons why it is not okay.

1. Women are still sexualised in construction.

It is still awkward to be a female on a construction site. Although it is less common than a decade ago, jeers and wolf-whistles still occur on site. During a recent visit to a high profile construction site, I managed to get no less than six cat calls / wolf whistles during my one-hour tour. It is not only awkward and embarrassing but it undermines the concept of women as equals. Being subjected to this continual low-level harassment as a result of my gender, subverts my professional role.

2. It is a male dominated industry.

Being a male dominated industry does not mean it should be unwelcoming towards women. However, the use of showgirls as ‘entertainment’ perpetuates a perception of women that we should be steering away from. It is a reflection of the days of the nude calendar in the canteen (it was in the print room in my first office). More should be done to make the construction industry friendly and welcoming for women.

3. Sex and discussion about sex, shouldn’t have a place in a work environment.

Not everyone is comfortable talking about sex. If this kind of entertainment further marginalises certain groups of people in the construction industry, then it is clearly inappropriate.

This choice of entertainment appears to be in response to a gender stereotype of our industry. We need to carefully consider what image our industry outwardly presents. Architecture as a profession has been working hard to establish gender equality. The Architects’ Journal’s Women in Architecture campaign annually highlights the struggle to retain women in architecture and inequality in pay. I applaud all they do, but am saddened that sexism nevertheless continues year on year.

We are currently amidst an international uprising against sexual harassment, enabling people to become empowered to raise awareness of their experiences. The construction industry should respond positively to this movement. Victims of harassment should not be expected to raise their own experiences of harassment, there should be a supportive culture where harassment is not only not tolerated but is named as such.

Industry leaders should be making a stand not only about sexual harassment but about equality and diversity. Construction institutions should be stepping up to set a positive culture for all who work in construction now and in the future. This is a great opportunity to reframe how we move forward in the industry to encourage more equality and diversity.

I have had numerous positive experiences in the construction industry and also on site, previously one of the more challenging contexts, far outweigh the negatives. Our recent and current contractors have been great to work with and very rarely is gender or equality raised as an issue. In a few, very isolated instances, where sexism has been experienced on site, the contractors have literally leapt into action in response to inappropriate comments.

The use of showgirls as entertainment is not an image that we should use to represent the construction industry, but I don’t want to see apologies from the organisers,

I want to hear the industry jump in response with a resounding “No, this is not okay.” I would hope that the construction industry would see showgirls as a mark of where we have been, not where we are at, or where we are going.

The construction industry should create a fair and just environment which is welcoming, diverse and supportive for all.

Angela Dapper is a partner at Denton Corker Marshall


Readers' comments (6)

  • I am appalled that a woman is getting cat calls or wolf whistles on construction sites in this day and age. I have to say I have not observed that in the past 15 years, at least. I hope it was reported to the site manager pronto. We can - and I would - have people formally reprimanded for that sort of behaviour.
    Helen Logan, Allies and Morrison

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  • Also the show girls serve no purpose, and actually presents a lack of imagination. Maybe the company thought “Probably a male dominated envoiroment, all men want to see scantily clad pretty women”. I would go to a trade event to learn about products, Systems, and services.
    I remember being at a trade event in the past, where a large paint manufacturer had sent ladies in hot pants and crop tops from a model agency. Some dectorators were getting annoyed that there was no one from the manufacturer to answer product related questions.

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  • We have a long way to go in the construction industry and the architectural profession to get anywhere near parity. There is a global campaign against sexual harassment. Now would be the time to begin cleaning up our act so that women can start to feel comfortable at work. Let’s start with MPIM shall we? Who thinks it’s acceptable for escorts and prostitutes to be part of a trade fair? Hands up anyone?

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  • I do believe that in George Orwell's novel, 1984, the "Anti-Sex League" featured prominently. If I may make so bold, perhaps the author, Angela Dapper, should found such an institution.
    Whilst fully onboard with the notion of gentlemanly and professional behaviour; methinks the dear lady doth protest rather too much. Only six wolf whistles??!! How many ladies would die for just one? Enjoy it while you can, and handle it with dignity. "Old Time Is Still a'Flying."

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  • Several readers have asked us to delete this comment. However, it is a pertinent example of the kind of attitude Angela is complaining about and we at the AJ are campaigning against.

  • Perhaps it would be better if stands at UK Construction Week were manned by mild-mannered people in grey suits so as to better reflect the industry and ensure that nobody could be offended. But would anybody take any notice of them?

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  • As the organiser of UK Construction Week (UKCW), I feel duty bound to reply to Angela’s article and the debate that is going on in social media networks. Some of the insults being thrown back and forth are not consistent with the image the construction industry needs to project to the wider world in order to attract new talent and a more diverse work force, and that is both alarming and a great shame. We need to listen to what’s being said in this debate and act upon it.

    Diversity has always been something we have placed at the very heart of what we do, and when we embarked on launching UKCW we engaged with industry leaders across the board in our diversity steering group meetings. The messages from those meetings was loud and clear – you need to tackle this issue head on. It is something we agreed to do wholeheartedly and assembled diversity steering groups, made commitments to balanced speaker programmes, and commitment to run main stage debates on the topics.

    I firmly believe that trade shows need to be engaging, innovative, fun and exciting, and of course they can be without portraying women in a demeaning way. The exhibitor’s stand that has sparked this debate has made a statement and apologised, and we too have explained what we will do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

    However, I am deeply concerned that the subsequent debate has overshadowed some massively positive outcomes. Diversity topics have always been prominent on the agenda at UKCW and professionals have spoken for the first time who have inspired others and had debates that are informing policies of major construction firms. We have also engaged with Colleges and Universities to make sure we inspire a diverse next generation to choose this exciting industry.

    It is important to me that those people that have contributed to the diversity agenda at UKCW understand the value and impact they are having. People who took to the stage this year like Christina Riley, Chair of Balfour Beatty’s LGBT & Allies Network, who shared her advice and inspirational story. Or Anne Timpany, whose entrepreneurial enterprise On Tap Plumbers is working with colleges and schools to engage with the much needed next generation of professionals. Their stories are shining examples of where diversity in construction can succeed, and their contribution is having an impact, I can assure you.

    Angela’s comment of “the construction industry should create a fair and just environment which is welcoming, diverse and supportive for all” is something we are wholeheartedly supportive of. I am determined we turn this experience, and the subsequent debate into a positive outcome. That will start with a UKCW Diversity Steering group we are holding in January with a number of professionals from across the industry as well as suppliers. I’d welcome Angela to join us at that meeting.

    Divisions have been exposed in this debate, now they are out there in the open lets tackle them. Unlike the divisions over BREXIT, there is only one side to be on in the diversity debate. All of us must champion the companies and individuals who are breaking down boundaries and shifting the image of construction, enabling it to become more diverse in future, and we must drag those who do not share this view with us. We need to move the debate on to more constructive ground. I think we all realise now there is a lot more work to be done on this, we can’t ignore it.

    Nathan Garnett - Event Director - UK Construction Week

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