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Into the lioness's den. . .


Our world is becoming increasingly dominated by so-called 'media events'. Last week we saw two unusual yet highly significant such gatherings which both deserve further discussion.

The fi rst was Inspire, a relatively sedate lunch for 300 in a London hotel, to celebrate outstanding performers in the construction industry. The awards were unusual because they were celebrating women's achievements within the industry.

Notwithstanding everything that we might believe about the subjective nature of industry awards, the Atkins Inspire awards were also significant because this was the first time that the construction industry has dared to venture into women-only territory.

Frankly, it is difficult and potentially perilous territory - walking the fine line between being inspiring, not patronising.

For many, there will still be lingering question marks over whether or not this kind of single-sex focus should be encouraged. There will be strongly held views to the effect that if women wish to be treated as equals in construction then they must compete for awards and accolades (and career promotions) as equals to men.

And while there is probably some truth in this view, we must also bear in mind that the construction industry is still underrepresented by women and unattractive to women.

That fact is a huge shame and a huge loss to us.

So we have a situation in which eggs must be broken to allow omelettes to be made.

If we are to focus attention on the female successes in construction to encourage the brightest and most creative women into our fold, then we have (respectfully and ecologically) to venture into this difficult territory on a regular basis.

It is signifi ant that when the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign began 23 years ago it aimed to make itself redundant within 25 years. Sadly this will not be achieved - and the industry will be worse off as a result.

It remains an uphill struggle and one which reminds me in many ways of the second unusual yet signifi cant 'media event' last week - the Al Gore-inspired Live Earth music festival.

This was unusual by virtue of its size and scope and was a truly global event which, in scale, eclipsed anything that Bob Geldof's Live Aid achieved in the past.

And it was signifi cant because it was the fi st time that pop music has been mobilised globally to market the climate change message.

Just like Inspire, Live Earth operated on dangerous ground.

On the one hand was the need and desire to spread an important message. On the other was the fact that physically staging such an event will have generated a signifi ant carbon footprint in itself.

Yes, there were clear ambiguities and certainly for many they will have undermined the message. No matter how much carbon was offset or how many hybrid/biofuel powered cars were enlisted to transport the performers to the venues, the event will, to many, still have symbolised excess and underlined the problem rather than help find solutions.

But again, just like Inspire, we have to break eggs if action is to be instigated. If we are to tackle the critical issue of climate change we have to act now, with force and in number.

So, well done to both. Mass media events will make a difference to the big issues. We must build on the momentum that both have created.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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