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UK Construction Week: the showgirls had to go

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Last year UK Construction Week was engulfed in Showgirl-gate. Denton Corker Marshall’s Angela Dapper, a critic of the ‘inappropriate’ employment of ‘promo girls’, welcomes the trade show’s adoption of new diversity rules

While many of us were hoping the construction industry would stand up against the showgirls and say a resounding ‘No, this is not okay’, instead it became a blur of impassioned voices for and against, until it became yesterday’s news.

This was until last week, when UK Construction Week announced their new Diversity Rules. Impressively, they put their hands up and said ‘We got it wrong last year’, facing last year’s issues head-on and using this experience as a foundation to create a new legacy. Finally, change is happening.

Their new code of conduct spells out what is considered acceptable to avoid further blunders. It includes points such as:

  • Consider whether you have asked staff to do something that could be deemed to objectify them as men or women as this is strictly forbidden and could result in closure of your stand.
  • Consider the mix of staff you have on the stand (gender, age, ethnicity etc); do they represent the diversity of your company, and if not, be prepared to explain why not.

The response of the UK Construction Week organisers was impressive and I congratulate them for not just setting down their improved guidelines, but for raising a new diversity benchmark in construction. I also send them my condolences for the trolling that seems to follow any change in this direction.

We need to question why the response to this issue has been so impassioned on both sides of the argument.

My earlier article in The Architects’ Journal was widely shared on social media and attracted a number of negative comments, including comments such as these two tweets, both supplied by a Dorset-based roofing company: ‘It’s always ugly women that complain the most about women’s rights…’ and, when the article was shared by a man … ‘Shut up, it’s creepy men like you that have strange secret sexual tendencies, a man complaining about pretty women …’

 The vitriolic responses show the lack of understanding and empathy towards issues around gender and diversity

The trolls also picked upon Easy Trim, the organisers of the showgirls, who were both trolled for having showgirls and then trolled for not having them at their next show.

Jamie Govier, managing director of Easy Trim said: ‘Healthy debate inspires. Unfortunately, however, the severity of some comments, on all sides of viewpoints were uncalled-for following UK Construction Week 2017.

’Diversity, inclusion and freedom should not provide a shield or shelter for personal abuse and trolling, or, indeed, those communicating it. Some comments I witnessed saddened me and my colleagues and do not take anyone forward positively.’

The vitriolic responses show the general lack of understanding and empathy towards issues around gender and diversity.

Not only can the construction skills shortage be eased through encouraging a more diverse mix of people into construction, but it makes it a more inclusive industry for everyone. Apparently, this kind of protest is normal before a cultural change, so let’s just hope this is a sign that change is on its way.

UK Construction Week invited a number of industry diversity advocates to join their diversity panel, including myself and Jamie Govier, representing a broad mix of perspectives. Out of our discussions it became evident that UK Construction Week needs to go further than to just address issues that arose last year. The new code of conduct aims to challenge exhibitors and steer the event towards a more diverse and inclusive future.

The challenge for UK Construction week is to not just promote diversity, equality and inclusion, but also to find a way to challenge perspectives.

Diversity video pic

Diversity video pic

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • Establishing a set of diversity and inclusion rules and code of conduct is one thing, but implementing change easier said than done and achieving results requires commitment, focus, patience and authentic leadership. The industry doesn't just need to change, it needs to transform.

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  • It's not just the showgirls - how about the cowboys? - or were the Carillion directors unique in ensuring that they had themselves a nice fat pension plan while those for their employees were left to starve?

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