Don’t blame the universities for a lack of women in construction – get in there and get involved
In her article in Building about women in construction (It's a man's world), Carol Bell seems to be asking a mix of questions. One is why more firms are not like Robinson Low Francis in promoting women. Another, implied, question is about a lack of education and training opportunities. And finally she apparently wonders why students are enthusiastic about their careers.
Well the answer is simple: the days of the dinosaurs that we faced when we came into industry at the end of the seventies are long gone. Thinking about education has changed – and I hope I can help clear up some of the confusion for you and other practitioners.
Carol, you need a spell back in a college environment with lots of students who are positive about life in general. A great class can give you a buzz like nothing else – oh, and they are students, not “children… or young people”. So I would like to invite you and other consultants to come and meet some of the students here in the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Westminster. They are smart and sassy, intelligent and informed, and are great to be around because they are a positive force to be reckoned with.
One of the real pleasures of teaching is following former students through their careers – I quietly wonder what influence I had on their thinking during three developmental years
Your question about education and training opportunities is a bit more complicated, and exercises me greatly as somebody who has been involved in teaching for the past 10 years. As a response, I will try to give an insight into the world of the industry practitioner who crosses over to academia to give something back.
Women teaching in further and higher education attract and retain large cohorts of female students, and once we have facilitated students through their education it’s up to industry to attract and retain them regardless of gender.
From the university practitioner’s perspective, gender is no longer an issue. Classes are pretty much a 50:50 gender mix in architecture, construction and property. The new issues emerging for many students are instead language skills, because they might have to go aboard to work, and keeping up their professional development.
I’m wondering what the issue is here for Carol Bell – because I made my decision 10 years ago to get back into education and do something positive
Personally, I find that one of the real pleasures of teaching is watching former students develop as young professionals and following them through their careers to become leading lights or recognised industry practitioners. I quietly wonder what influence I really had on their thinking during three developmental years. That’s why I’m wondering what the issue is here for Carol Bell at Robinson Low Francis – because I made my decision 10 years ago to get back into education and do something positive.
Is it that courses are not attracting enough students, or perhaps that those who qualify choose to move out of the sector early on because of curious employment practices? The courses are heaving at my university, and we do our absolute best with just enough staff to cope; we have good completion and degree grade rates. So the problem is not with us, I think – because women like me influence the generations coming through and into your businesses.
The majority of construction practitioners in a UK university at the moment are not doing the job for the salary – especially if you are a QS. We work long hours with big groups of students, and it is shatteringly busy – by comparison, industrial life was always easier for me. I do this job for my students, and this feeds into industry.
If you want to change things, you need to be where you can change things – in the colleges and universities, because that’s where people learn to think
The reality – and the response to Carol Bell – could simply be that everybody’s attitude to the way we work has changed. New graduates coming into the sector over the past 10 years, regardless of gender, understand that the industry’s culture is one of hard work –especially when the economy hardens or overheats. It’s tough, and the students leaving this university department are prepared for that.
For many practitioners who cross over into academia, we are about transcending our need for money and security. We are about giving something back to the industry that has paid our mortgages for the past 20 or so years and we are especially about influencing the next generation that comes through so they can face their challenges earlier and more realistically – and perhaps remain in your businesses long enough to level up your gender profiles.
If you want to change things, Carol, you need to be where you can change things – in the colleges and universities, because that’s where people learn to think. So when can we expect your call for guest lecturing or for an employment event?