Choose to challenge constructively – gender balance in the workplace

3 min read

It is true that gender balance can add to global GDP and improve business performance. Whatever industry you’re working in, gender equality brings you closer to your clients, boosts creativity and financial results. We can transform the work environment to promote equality. We can grow together.

In construction and real estate, we’re becoming more aware of these benefits, but also of the detractors for gender equality. In order to continue to reduce the gender pay gap, which has been widely stagnant despite growing dissatisfaction with the status quo, we have a responsibility as business leaders to choose to challenge constructively in the workplace.

Challenging internal culture and working practices for women. Challenging transparency and promotion opportunities. Challenging can be a way of acting in the workplace, while building an inclusive mindset – everyone should be on board.

Similar to any other system that has in-built bias, the only way to deconstruct it and make it fair, is to challenge it and put its formal and informal practices back together. Our Women at Mace co-founder, Sarah Hughes, discusses the benefits of challenging constructively in the workplace as an every-day way of thinking and acting.

Breaking the glass ceiling in construction

‘Everyone should be a feminist’, is what we’ve been hearing from a while when people address gender related issues in business, politics, education. But are we creating the opportunities and a psychologically safe space without fear of judgement for people to actively promote gender equality, especially in the workplace?

In an industry like construction, our women leaders are often over-achievers; they are fewer in numbers compared to men, but their work and their leadership truly makes an outstanding difference on any project and programme we deliver. This is not surprising and fits in with the data we have globally. Teams with more female participation perform better, get to solutions quicker and innovate more remarkably. We are also seeing our clients demanding diversity in our project teams, with end-users desperate for the decision-makers to look and sound like them and understand their needs.

Creating the environment for all women to break through the glass ceiling in construction – as in other industries – means tackling two fundamental challenges: addressing the gender pay gap and changing workplace culture. One is commercial, the other is cultural, and the two are intrinsically linked.

First, what are some of the big barriers to gender equality that we still face? Here, I’m talking about career progression and promotion, flexible working pattern perceptions and workplace behaviours and culture. Achieving a gender-balanced workforce involves making targeted interventions in all of these areas in a constructive way. Businesses need to sponsor and proactively champion women and their achievements, as well as make opportunities visible and attractive to them; creating a fertile ground for women to reach their full potential.

I am hopeful that flexible working is where we can make large strides now that a large number of people had to adapt their working practices overnight as a result of the pandemic. Home working during the pandemic is not the same as flexible working, but it has evidenced that employees do not have to be sitting in from of you between 9 and 5 to be effective workers. Sadly, there is clear evidence that women who take maternal leave experience a negative impact on career progression compared with men taking paternal leave.

With the notion of working out of the office space and still delivering results now more widely understood, we have an opportunity to  challenge the perception that women with child-caring responsibilities may be less capable in the workplace than men with the same responsibilities, and instead harness the passion, experience and energies of people who are choosing to return to the workforce.

Challenging every day behaviour may be the final frontier in achieving true gender balance in the workplace. Many women experience micro aggressions in the workplace on a daily basis and outdated attitudes can ruin morale and hinder progress, meaning businesses cannot fully realise the talents of the workforce.

Choosing to challenge constructively

Now, let’s take a look at the opportunity for gender balance in the office. What drives us to act in favour? Diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 45%. It seems that the business and financial incentives are clear, yet somehow, we experience gender myopia when we put project teams together. We risk choosing not to change the way we do things because they have historically delivered results. What we will find is that results don’t get any better and yet we know we need to evolve to retain our competitive edge.

Businesses can challenge this by having internal platforms of support, where gender issues are exposed and discussed in a safe environment, and where senior leaders – female and male - offer models for achievement for younger people in their careers. These should actively seek to involve men who often represent a large part of the decision-makers in a company, and because what is good for women is good for everyone. The more you highlight the business case for diverse teams, the more people will listen.

As we #choosetochallenge during the week of International Women’s Day, what will you choose to challenge? I challenge you to do one thing this week to make a positive impact towards creating a gendered balanced workforce in your team. We’ve got your back - let us know how you get on.