For women, see pin-ups;FE Focus

26th June 1998 at 01:00
IN the Second World War, women helped build a shipyard and mended roads. By comparison, the climate on today's building sites seems hostile and antiquated.

The Bradford and Ilkley team found that most construction companies were uninterested in their project. The training officer from one decorating contractor refused to allow its site foremen to be interviewed because most "couldn't read and write, let alone conduct themselves in an interview".

A few companies, influenced by the Opportunity 2000 campaign to ensure that business exploits the economic potential of females, did employ women. A small building firm reported that there were many elderly, wealthy women who might feel "a lot safer with a girl" maintaining their homes. "Once she's been to someone's house and done a good job, they'll ring up and ask for her again," said a male builder of a female colleague.

But the construction sector continues to discourage women with its aggressive, competitive culture and hierarchical structures. Men tend to manage men with bullying and verbal abuse, rather than co-operation. Often, women are represented only by a pin-up calendar.

To survive, women must adopt male strategies. One manager reported that two female employees had installed male pin-up calendars. In addition, women usually have to cope in messy environments without access to their own toilets or changing facilities.

Fifty per cent of female interviewees had also experienced sexual harassment. Many simply accepted it as part of being in a male-dominated industry. With a lack of formal procedures for complaints, most had found their own methods of coping.

Some men were ignorant of their blatantly offensive language or behaviour, one line manager even referring to his virility when telling researchers that two female surveyors were on maternity leave. A common assumption is that women needed to be toughened up to enable them to cope better in the future.

Small wonder most women don't relish walking past building sites, let alone choose to work on them, the researchers say.

Companies must work with local training organisations to develop strategies to encourage the recruitment and retention of women, says the report. Without drastic changes to company culture and organisational practices from a grass-roots level up, these sectors will continue to restrict their pool of expertise, and to ostracise the few women they currently have in skilled jobs.

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