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Hormone imbalance The real way to end construction conflict is to employ more women, argues Jackie Whitelaw.

Ask a man to go out and buy six Mr Kipling apple pies and, like as not, he'll come back with two strawberry cheesecakes and a leather jacket from the store next door; or he'll reappear with some dubious own brand 'because they were cheaper'.

Expect him at seven and he'll arrive an hour and a half late blaming the traffic and swearing it normally only takes 40 minutes to get up the M4 to London from Cardiff.

Given that 97% of the people working in civil engineering are male, is anyone surprised that the industry is plagued by schemes that come in late and over budget and are of dubious quality?

Perhaps the 97% male Rethinking Construction conference next week might like to address this issue

- missing from Sir John Egan's Taskforce report - when they ponder how to change the industry's culture.

Any industry with a disproportionate number of men or women is bound to be plagued by all the worst characteristics of the most prevalent sex. Of course construction is argumentative and adversarial. It is operating in an unnatural, testosterone-driven environment.

Men have lots of wonderful qualities, not least drive, energy, enthusiasm and single minded commitment to getting a job done. What is missing are some of the abilities that the task force saw as crucial drivers for change - namely the need to empathise with the client, a commitment to people and an instinct for collaborative working and information sharing. On the whole women do these things automatically, while men seem to need to be sent on courses to learn how. Even then, they have to be inspired into signing up to the new values by extra competitive go-karting bonding sessions.

We're not talking about all men, obviously. Sue Lowndes, who managed the culture change project on the Heathrow Express scheme, says that many of the men who went through her course demonstrated sound team behaviour. She is a great believer in human adaptability:

change the atmosphere in which they work and people, men or women, will respond.

Yet in the 'Building down Barriers' trial programme at the Ministry of Defence, 18 of the 24 men put forward by Amec had to quit the trial partnering scheme. Although technically gifted, they

could not change their adversarial mindset. The replacements are all men too, so we'll see how they do.

The role women could play in changing construction culture was recognised by the Latham report when a working group was devoted to the issue. Its chairwoman Sandi Rhys Jones saysshe was disappointed that the Egan task force chose not to take forward the equal opportunities points raised by Latham, although mention of the overlong working hours and unsanitary conditions on site could be taken as an oblique reference to the issues.

She is organising a ginger group with the working title 'constructive women' which is planning to run its own focus conference responding to the Egan task force ideas. It aims to raise the profile of women who already work in the industry and to encourage others to join.

The construction institutions have been actively promoting the profession to women. But it would help if one more target could be added to those in the Egan task force report: to increase the number of women in construction by 10% year on year. Someone could remind John Prescott that the Labour Party opted to encourage more women to stand as Labour MPs in the general election, and look at how effective that decision was.

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