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A male dominated profession like FM may take time to change

Blog from Victoria Hughes, Head of Sustainability, VINCI Facilities

News headlines about the lack of women on the boards of the FTSE 250 women combined with details about gender pay gap data (GPG) published recently has all served to highlight the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. That attention is a good thing. But what is it telling us – really?

Ask any women in business and they have similar stories. There is still unfair discrimination, but there is a lot of change occurring too that goes unnoticed. But first we must face some facts.

Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) research has found that men on average earned £11,000 more than women in the profession in 2016, up from £7,000 in 2015. In fact, whilst women start their careers on a par with men, by the time they reached the 46-55 age bracket women earned £13,000 less than their male peers. Problems too at the top, UK wide GPG data shows women are underrepresented in top-paid jobs when compared to the business as a whole in 82 per cent of companies who reported.

It’s no big surprise that the ONS lists construction and building trade supervisors as having the highest men-favoured gender pay gap at 45 per cent. The arguments state that the historic pipeline of experienced and or talented females is just not as prevalent as our male counterparts. Fair enough, but right now, today, females still struggle to push past middle management in large enough numbers, and research supports this.

Behaviours are embedded and need to shift. Unconscious bias and micro-practices performed subconsciously affect this transition. Tiny throw away comments, the tendency to recruit people like ourselves and board room banter can negatively impact mindset for all parties.

Every company I know recognises that diversity is a key component to an effective sustainable business. A mix of backgrounds, values, perception and attitudes stimulate debate and challenge executive decisions and if companies do not address diversity in their senior management positions the company will be worse off for it. I’m not in favour of quotas or female specific programmes as these can be counterproductive. Rather companies should embrace modern life, call out bias and perceived stigma to promote inclusivity for all. This accompanied by a change in culture of middle and senior management to accept feedback and act on these often-unconscious behaviours (for all genders) will start a ripple that will grow into a sizable wave of change and improvement.

Within VINCI our results put us low on the league table, and perceptions could be that we do not promote diversity within our organisation. However, my experience is one of feeling supported and valued in my role before and after becoming a mother. Have I encountered discrimination, inappropriate comments, and frustration across my various employers and job interviews – yes and the explosion of the #metoo campaign and the requirement for the GPG demonstrates there are real issues that need closer scrutiny. However, the GPG data from the ONS shows that the largest difference in pay is 62 per cent in favour of women for the midwifery profession, a traditionally female dominated occupation. Therefore, in a traditionally male dominated profession it will take time to challenge behaviours and implement change to successfully pull the pipeline of female talent into our more senior roles. Let’s stop finger pointing at industries that are doing great things despite what the data says and recognise the giant leaps we have made in the last 20 years for greater diversity.

About Sarah OBeirne

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