INTERESTING TIMES

August started out with Zimbabweans demonstrating in the streets of Harare because they reckoned the results of their general election had been rigged. There were threats of making the country ungovernable. South Africa kicked off Women’s Month with mass marches intended to shut down the economy – even if just for a day. Women have had enough of gender-based violence and Zimbabweans have had enough of political chicanery. But the protests weren’t having much success.

John Matthews, President – Master Builders South Africa

Then there’s the business breakfast covered in this month’s SA Builder, which tried to make sense of what was going on in the South African economy. With limited results, because the breakfast took place and the analyst made his pronouncements before Cyril Ramaphosa announced his late-night confirmation that the SA Constitution would be amended to allow land expropriation without compensation. This even before all the hearings were complete! The rand went pear-shaped again.

The prospects for settlement in Zimbabwe look bleak, and we could easily, here down south, view what’s happening there as a prototype for things to come. But we’re different, we pull the rabbit out of the hat at the last minute and breathe a sigh of relief – don’t we.

So we’ve established that making predictions has become a tricky business, because in the time it takes to bring this magazine to its readers, just too many things could change. Instead, we will concentrate on where we can make a difference in the short term.

It’s Women’s month. An interesting phenomenon, because we actually believe every month belongs to women. But, if it’s a time to take stock of a woman’s role in all quarters of our humanity, then perhaps we should look at where women may be drawing the short straw in terms of jobs, security, income and influence.

If one checks the archives, it’s been a long time since women’s ostensibly minor role status in the construction industry, for instance, has been examined in any depth in the media, which could mean that it’s just one of those inconvenient truths that’s swept under the rug. Or, perhaps everyone thinks things are ok, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Women have absolutely continued to take their place in the professional strata of the industry in increasing numbers, with engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and other executive leaders being drawn from the ranks of women who have become qualified for those jobs, no question. But who can honestly say that women are actively encouraged to enter the building industry? Are women appointed to jobs in construction largely with gender equity in mind, or is there a strong feeling that their presence improves the quality of the industry?

It’s probably a very individual thing, and attitudes will differ. The women we know in the building industry do a very good job, they are viewed as equal players by their male counterparts and the women in turn, judge their colleagues by their capability rather than their gender. So, the playing field could be viewed as being level from our perspective.

But it’s not like that everywhere, and a few years ago women interviewed by a national news platform still felt that there was an inequity, grounded in the prevailing disparity in numbers between men and women employed in the building industry.

Among those who had successfully integrated into the industry, one woman said that she nevertheless felt she was being second-guessed by her male colleagues although she was equally qualified. At the time the story was published, women were urged to state their view and stand their ground. Some said they did, and were successful.

But significantly, some of the women interviewed brought up the issue of whether the predominantly masculine tone of the industry meant that women had to abandon their femininity to succeed.

This issue has been endlessly debated without much resolution, and as long as the players in an industry feel that their case has to be argued from a gender point of view, the lines will remain drawn.

We believe that aptitude, qualifications, skill, and dedication are the only criteria for a successful career in the building industry and there’s simply no place for professional gender inequity – here, or anywhere else.

John

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