for Nick Cross Associates

Why is there still so much controversy about whether women and building sites go together?

Nick knows: "I'm not saying I agree with this, but there's a feeling that site work is a male thing. It's macho and crass, but people just don't put a woman into that picture."

Alex agrees that the idea is alien to a lot of people but thinks this may be for another reason.

"I don't think there are many women who work on sites because you need a lot of physical strength." He adds (quickly) that this doesn't mean women don't have a role in construction and points out the burgeoning population of female electricians and joiners.

Max, who has been quiet up to now, observing the others, is suddenly inspired. "But women should be seen as an asset not an add-on. They're incredibly good at what they do, they're more organised, more on the ball."

"No, I disagree," says Nick. "I don't think you can generalise like that - it's patronising. You can't say that all women are well organised and so they will be suited to a job in construction."

"I think it goes back to childhood," says Alex changing direction. He points out that boys get Meccano and girls get dolls and stuffed animals.

"But is that because that's what is expected off them?" asks Nick, neatly putting his finger on the logical flaw in Alex's argument.

He adds that a lot of his female friends would have preferred some building blocks or a Scalextric to a My Little Pony.

"Yes, I think social conditioning has a lot to do with it," adds Max thoughtfully, before Alex changes the subject again.

"Well, I don't necessarily agree that it's harder for women. I've a female friend in the industry and when she goes down to the site she's got the builders eating out of the palm of her hand."

Once it has been established that Alex's friend is something of a babe the conversation gets really interesting as the boys try desperately to avoid the question they know is coming.

"We'd always hire someone based on his or her qualifications and merits," says Max, sweat forming on his upper lip. But what if two women were on a par on paper but, in the flesh, one was attractive and the other wasn't?

"That would never happen, there would always be one with an edge," says Max, unwilling to perform the thought experiment. "But I guess you'd have to decide if you wanted to impress clients with an attractive colleague or actually get some work done."

"We've just hired a girl actually and I think the atmosphere in the office will be much better as a result," says Nick. "At least it might stomp out all the belching!"

Those present …

Nick Cross, a 32-year-old architect
Max de Rosee, 30, an associate
Alex Martin, an architectural assistant, aged 27
Emily Wright, Building reporter

Chosen watering hole: King’s Arms, Southwark  
Ambience: Best after-work pub west of the Pecos 
Principal preoccupation: Women on site and the role of Meccano in social engineering  
Drinks bought: Stella, Stella, Stella and (yawn) Stella