If want to build a world fit for women, women need to be part of building it

When the first American woman went to space for six days she was provided with 100 tampons for six days. Why? Because no one thought to ask her what she needed. 

When we talk about the importance of inclusion and representation, we often cite business cases, the impact of diversity of thought, or simply acknowledge that it’s the right thing to do. What really needs to be at the top of this list, particularly in a business like mine, is an acknowledgement that if we want a world that works for women, women should be a bigger part of building it. 

A 2020 UN report said, 

“Underdeveloped and gender-blind infrastructure is one of the leading causes for the inability of women and girls to access the basic services to support their upward social mobility and reduce the gender gap.”

While we continually strive for an equal society, gendered roles still greatly impact women and their access to opportunities. Women are more likely to be young carers, less likely to have a car (or even a license), take on over double the amount of childcare responsibility (on average) and, most disturbingly of all, at least a quarter of all women in the country have experienced a sexual assault. 

Because of this, women use transport networks differently and are disproportionately affected by ineffective or unsuitable provision. They tend to have more trips with multiple stops and destinations in order to combine their personal and economic activities.

BAM staff celebrating International Women's Day

In Scotland, we’re working with Network Rail to add more stations to the railway network, delivering 15 new modern stations over the last 15 years to reconnect communities without the need for a car. Economically, this creates growth and work opportunities, but also brings access to the rail network closer to more people, and with the provision of further public transport options such as buses, minimises time travelling outside of safe, well-lit public spaces. 

In London, where you’re never far from your nearest tube station, TfL is running a step-free-access programme. In addition to being more likely to require access with a pram or buggy, women are also more likely to have a disability. So while accessible transport positively impacts society as a whole, the delivery of these schemes specifically connects more women to jobs, healthcare and social opportunities. 

When it comes to global health, access to specialist care remains a high priority for women across the world. One startling statistic shows that 830 women die due to preventable childbirth and pregnancy-related causes each day. 99% of these are in the developing world, highlighting the real-world implications when health infrastructure isn’t accessible, fit for purpose or simply doesn’t exist at all. 

The UK government found in their Women’s Health Strategy that a major factor in women not being able to access the healthcare they need, is a lack of joined-up and holistic provision such as women’s health centres and hubs. I’m glad to see this being addressed with the New Hospitals Programme not only extending care into local communities but creating two purpose-built women and children hospitals in Cornwall and Milton Keynes. I’m pleased to say BAM has been chosen to deliver Cornwall Women and Children’s Hospital, starting work later this year. 

Infrastructure is inclusive when it is planned, designed, implemented and managed with a focus on the needs of all end users, especially vulnerable or marginalised groups such as women, youth, the elderly and people with disabilities. One of the barriers to inclusive infrastructure is the predominance of men in infrastructure development-related professions. - UN

In order for us to continue improving infrastructure inclusivity, we need to ensure women are better represented at all levels of our workforce in construction and engineering, and that women are more involved in infrastructure design and decision-making. I’m pleased that BAM offers opportunities which create more opportunity for women to join the industry - from taster days for school-aged girls to our apprenticeship programme, we’re improving gender representation and reducing our gender pay gap. 

Once here, we make sure women are supported in building a fulfilling career. I’m proud to be the executive sponsor of our Gender Action Inclusion Network, helping to ensure that our organisation maintains a sophisticated understanding of the many factors that affect gender inclusion. As an employer, I know how much diversity improves and strengthens my business. As a proud husband and father to female engineers, I’ve learnt the benefits of a understanding a perspective that differs from mine. 

The Gender Action Inclusion Network aims to scale this in our business by raising awareness, collating and reflecting the lived experience of our employees, and providing a gender perspective on business issues across BAM. Recent efforts have seen a partnership with green sanitary product provider Grace and Green, a greater selection of female and maternity-fit PPE and an industry-leading flexible working trial. These sit alongside our other initiatives to remove ingrained bias from our internal processes and change legacy working practices in the industry. 

And it’s not all inward-facing. When delivering a project, consideration of procurement and a supply chain whose values reflect our own is key to ensuring our efforts penetrate through every part of our work. In the coming years, I’d like to see us putting more focus on engaging with female-owned suppliers and businesses. Beyond that, the communities local to our projects provide us with many opportunities to engage local women and create career opportunities which weren’t there before. 

From the charities we support to the community action we take - even considering when we hold stakeholder events so that those with caring responsibilities aren’t excluded – how we deliver a project on-site has the potential to be transformative to the women in the local area. 

As a full lifecycle service provider through our facilities management business, we also have reach into the operational life of our built environment, ensuring the country’s infrastructure remains gender-mainstreamed long after it’s delivered. 

About the author

Alasdair Henderson

Alasdair Henderson

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Alasdair is BAM UK & Ireland’s Executive Director of Ireland. 

Alasdair joined BAM as a graduate engineer in 1996 and has worked his way up through a variety of operational and business leadership roles across BAM. 

He is well known as an advocate of purpose-led business, believing that the best and most sustainable financial results are achieved when the things we build add value to society.  He holds safety, quality, inclusion, and collaboration as key tenets of what makes a good business and is delighted that he sees all these things on a daily basis at BAM.  

Alasdair is actively involved in policy development in the industry and is a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a fellow of the Institute of Quarrying, and a visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde.