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United in a common cause

Last week saw the launch of the Construction Industry Council's Equal Opportunities task force. The task force includes both women and men who represent CIC members and are determined to achieve the benefits to the industry which can only be secured by a thorough commitment to equal opportunities.

Key issues to be tackled by the task force will include:

Improving the image of construction;

Explaining the relevance of equal opportunities;

Establishing programmes of better business awareness, communications and management training;

Assisting in changing the culture of construction;

Developing a cross-disciplinary mentoring system.

The CIC equal opportunities agenda originates from the recommendations of Latham Working Group 8.

During late 1997 the CIC adopted with enthusiasm the Constructive Women Professionals Group as a task force to develop an equal opportunities policy for professionals in construction. The Constructive Women Professionals Group had been established through the efforts of senior professional women concerned to see the implementation of the equal opportunities recommendations of the Latham working group. Their experience in construction made them want to give their time to improve the working environment for those who follow them. It was also agreed that the task force should broaden its scope to include wider equal opportunities issues.

Why now? The external environment is now supportive of equal opportunities and the internal environment in construction is such that change is sought to its image and culture.

Construction is now ready to look at itself in the light of the Latham report. It is ready to acknowledge it has faults, and wants to change its image and culture.

Management methods are up for review, and it is accepted that confrontation is expensive and wasteful and that a softer, more collaborative approach is worth trying. Construction needs talent, and there is the realisation that discarding over half the working population is wasteful of talent and prevents building a balanced workforce. The industry is ready to accept the benefits that women and other minorities bring.

Construction is approaching the millennium with women and ethnic minorities making up less than an estimated 5% of its qualified practitioners. There are now senior women and men who are ready to champion change and provide the necessary guidance and leadership. The minorities are not prepared to allow construction to excuse itself from an awareness of equal opportunities, or a willingness to operate fair policies.

Both inside and outside the ICE there are moves to make construction a fairer, more open minded and flexible place to work - for everyone.

The external environment is also encouraging change. In all walks of life we are hearing more about exposure of discrimination and of action being taken to achieve equal opportunities.

For example, racial discrimination by the very young is now in focus and preventative measures are being taken to prevent harassment by them; the Church is preparing guidelines to remove discrimination from within its ranks; a number of professions are operating new procedures which are enabling minorities to demonstrate their capabilities by reaching levels of seniority and representation never achieved before.

The Labour Party showed its commitment to change by taking the necessary steps to improve the representation of women as MPs. With changing patterns of employment partly caused by shorter marriages and less stable families, more women need and want to earn a professional's salary. The Government's recent White Paper, Fairness at Work, is pointing the way forward.

For all these reasons, the time is right to launch this task force, and there is great optimism that it will help achieve the culture change which construction professionals would like to see.

Helen Stone is a Fellow of the ICE and is chairman of the CIC Equal Opportunities task force.

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