For most of my academic career, recruiting more female entrants to courses in traditionally ‘male-dominated’ subject areas has been an accepted goal for course managers. In my subject of construction management, most courses now recruit more women than they once did (which is not difficult!) but we are a long way short of a balanced intake. The case for female recruitment is rarely analysed, but there is an assumption that it is part of a general commitment to equal opportunities. I would not for a moment disparage that justification: I believe passionately that human beings should enjoy equal opportunities, irrespective of gender, race or any other human characteristic – and it is impossible to deny that such equality has often been lacking. But today I want to examine a different argument for having more women in the construction workforce.
This springs out of a recent report in the UK (by Lord Davies of Abersoch) which argues that, in the interests of good governance, there should be more women on the boards of major companies. The Davies recommendation was anticipated by Martin Vander Weyer in an article in a recent issue of The Spectator (26.02.11), expressing, more strongly than I have seen it expressed before, the real dangers of an excessively masculine approach to decision making. He attributes much of the banking crisis to excessive machismo on the part of bank directors, and concludes that ‘major companies, and the pension funds that invest in them, would be a lot safer in the hands of gender-balanced boards’.
Some feminists would, I know, argue against the attribution of particular qualities to men and women, and I fully accept that there is huge (and overlapping) diversity of personality characteristics within each of the genders. I’m convinced, however, that organisations perform better with a gender-balanced workforce and (to return to the part of the organisational world I know best) that management in construction sometimes suffers from the excessive machismo to which Vander Meyer refers. Nor do I believe that the need for balance exists only at the level of corporate governance: indeed it’s at the operational level that macho-management can be most prevalent and dangerous – whether it is practised by men or by women.
Higher education courses frequently simulate industrial practice, and I hope it may be possible for teachers to examine the extent to which gender balance influences decision making and performance within work groups. It would be good to hear from anyone who has done work of that kind on construction courses.