Although they'd never admit it, the average male boss believes that construction will always be too grimy and gruelling for most female sensibilities. As BAA project manager Erica Lay says in our feature on page 42: "You have to be strong-minded to do this job; you can't be weak, otherwise people will walk over you." The Sexism in the City victims say much the same thing. Change is possible, though. Simons chairman Paul Hodgkinson led the way by declaring that half his workforce will be female by 2010. And if his main problem was finding enough applicants, it's encouraging that at Bexley College, six out of 30 students on its building course are women (page 38). That doesn't sound many, but last year it was two. Tutor Fran Carton says the female students are better at sharing opinions and admitting mistakes, and they make the men less aggressive. In this era of team building, it's easy to see why we need them.
Bexley's task will get easier, of course, if one or two of its female graduates can become role models. It was depressing that none of the "50 most powerful women in Britain" listed in a recent Management Today were from construction. But that's hardly surprising, given that the bosses of the top 50 contractors and housebuilders are all men. Apart from architects such as Zaha Hadid, and the likes of Deena Mattar, finance director of Kier, there are only a handful of women in positions of authority. Luckily, it's not just business stars that make role models. There's project manager Parminder Mew, who made Building's cover after rescuing a Sikh temple. And Stephanie Haycraft, one of Bexley's students, who has inspired her daughter to follow suit.
Sadly, these will remain exceptions until the industry removes the physical and cultural barriers to women. For example, it's impossible for many to put in 12-hour shifts without the kind of on-site nursery that Preston contractor Eric Wright provides (15 March, page 48). The rarity of these suggests that executives secretly like the industry's male clubbiness. If they do want change, why not hire one of Management Today's top 50 as a non-executive director?
The immigration debate – to which Gerald Kaufman is the latest contributor (page 31) – is an opportunity to review recruitment policies generally. Executives must consider how to raise the proportion of staff from ethnic minorities from a pitiful 2%, and – following Prince Charles' intervention – explore the possibility of rehabilitating young offenders. Above all, though, they must find better ways of targeting women from childhood onwards, even if it means sending female managers out to every school within a 10-mile radius. Which brings us back to image. If only the lead female character in Bob The Builder had been the contractor, and not his secretary.