Construction Week Middle East spoke with famous female professionals about shattering stereotypes and developing the self-assurance to take charge in the workplace in honour of International Women’s Day.
Our daily lives depend heavily on the construction industry. It has an effect on practically every aspect of work, travel, and leisure and significantly boosts the expanding economy. Yet, the business is experiencing a severe labour shortage, which is exacerbated by a lack of skilled workers in both the male and female demographics.
Many women are studying STEM fields and going on to higher education, especially in the MENA region. The issue presently, however, is not the level of education that women are able to achieve, but rather the willingness of businesses in the area to hire talent to join their workforce.
It is becoming more typical for organisations and companies to devote a portion of their time to creating diverse teams with inclusive work practises as ESG targets are put in place in the Middle East. Despite this, it frequently implies that these projects are driven more by necessity than by priority.
According to numerous research, businesses are frequently more motivated to hire women when there are gender targets to meet.
Construction Week Middle East recently met with renowned women in the construction industry who are eager to share their knowledge and understanding of the issue in order to address the institutional efforts being made in the region to promote diversity and in observance of International Women’s Day.
Addressing the Issue of unconscious bias
Unconscious bias still exists in the construction sector, which is one of the main problems women confront today. Implicit biases, also known as unconscious biases, are views maintained subconsciously that influence how people perceive and feel about those around them.
These preconceptions frequently start to form in early childhood and show up as prejudiced behaviour as people get older.
An unconscious prejudice can become a conscious bias through the progressive raising of consciousness in the workplace, although being initially difficult to recognise.
Sarah Saxon, the regional leader of Human Capital at Compass Project Consulting, says that we can choose to view situations as either issues or opportunities. “We have made good strides towards promoting diversity and inclusion in the AEC industry. Nevertheless, we must maintain this momentum by addressing the barriers that stop women and other underrepresented groups from excelling in our business if we want to have a truly meaningful influence.
Speaking specifically about unconscious prejudice, Saxon lists a number of important measures that businesses may implement to foster a more inclusive workplace. “We can build capacity, feed an inclusive culture, provide training, provide transparency, encourage connection and openness to feedback, give support, take tiny acts, and set goals with concrete outcomes,” she says.
Saxon also emphasises the significance of “offering leadership training” and “defining clear goals and targets” to enable the sector to make significant strides towards establishing a more inclusive and diverse workplace.
The start of the hiring procedure is another frequent source of the issue. Many businesses, whether they realise it or not, may deter particular groups from applying for a position because of duties that are more common among men.
Equality vs. Equity
Although sounding similar, the difference between equality and equity are miles apart. Having equality in the workplace involves giving each individual the same resources and opportunities. However, because the industry is predominantly male, this idea might not appeal to everyone.
Enters equity; the practice of recognising each individual’s talents and circumstances before allocating resources needed to reach an equal outcome. This idea is especially relevant for the construction industry as men and women have certain roles to successfully built projects from the ground up.
According to Tom Elam, HR director, MEA at SNC-Lavalin, the balance is still off-key when it comes to representing women in the workplace. He comments: “More needs to be done to support women and other underrepresented groups in leadership positions. At the moment it seems to be about meeting quotas rather than truly understanding the value of diversity. The industry needs to look at increasing representation, addressing its biases, providing more mentorship and fostering more inclusive cultures.”
Correspondingly, the role of policies is becoming more apparent as companies begin to understand the need to promote equity and eliminate unconscious bias when selecting female talent.
“HR processes will form part of this journey,” starts Reem Seraj, business support manager and regional ED&I committee chair at Atkins MEA. “This includes updating policies and procedures to support Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I), such as flexible working or job sharing for working moms, plus ensuring there is a diversity of interviewers to remove any unconscious biases during selection.”
Starting within the workplace
Over the past few years, candid conversations about ED&I have sparked significant debates. Now, there is enough proof of genuine inclusion from Middle Eastern businesses, demonstrating inspirational leadership and highlighting the advantages that a diverse organisation enjoys.
Women are making waves in the industry, from entry-level jobs to prospects in the C-suite. The only thing that is constant in life is change, and by accepting it, we are creating more potential for business success.
A lot of businesses have come forward to discuss how they went about attaining true inclusiveness, and a common theme among them seems to be working towards a shared objective.
Beginning with Saxon, “From the very beginning of Compass, we have always employed our staff based on the merit and culture that they bring. With this organic philosophy embedded in our Genetics, we are grateful to be represented by a healthy ratio of gender, nationality, and religion. It is never about gender, nationality, or creed.
In a similar vein, Atkins has also disclosed its ED&I objectives for the Middle East. Our network represents our employees in the region and has a three-year plan encompassing themes like increasing awareness internally, helping underrepresented groups, and becoming a leading voice for change, according to David Haboubi, head of nuclear and chair of the regional ED&I committee, MEA.
In the past year, we have built growth plans for top female talent, established a mentorship platform that prioritises future female leaders, started a lean-in circle for women, and honoured female leadership triumphs throughout the year. Gender diversity is a big topic right now. We are setting up clear goals for gender diversity going forward, including those for senior roles.
To achieve a unified objective, it is also essential to create teams that only work on ED&I.
A worldwide and regional ED&I team at JLL directly answers to the CEO of the business. In order to advance JLL’s culture, the team is now defining comprehensive initiatives and evaluating potential leadership investments.
“In my personal experience, adopting this technique has produced a more equitable workplace where I am able to arrive at work each day in my “whole self,” unhindered by criticism. According to Hala Yousef, sustainability director of project & development services at JLL MEA, “It also enables me to go above and beyond the traditional bounds to not just excel, but to be able to give extraordinary services to our clients.
Leadership must support both workplace initiatives and the industry’s general diversity and inclusion efforts. “Leadership should appear in the form of creating clear diversity goals, providing resources and budgets, and holding teams accountable for attaining these goals,” Asli Cakir, vice president for human resources at Schneider Electric GCC, said.
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