Sunday, 7 September 2008

Women behaving nicely

The autumn season gets off to an excellent start, with the all-woman panel session on Good Business on 4 September at the International Construction Superconference in London.

Well, it was an all woman panel until the evening before, when the chap from the concurrent session asked if he could join our hen party, rather than run his solo presentation in the next suite at the same time.

Taking the request as a compliment and happy to demonstrate inclusiveness, (not to mention welcoming a larger audience) I agree. So David Lane of Hill International joins the line-up, with Janet Kidner of Lend Lease Retail and Communities, Suzannah Nichol of the National Specialist Contractors Council and, thanks to sponsorship by the Chartered Institute of Building, Bridgette Gasa from COEGA development zone in South Africa.

Our panel theme of Good Business addressed the challenging and sometimes rather nebulous issues of what might be described as good behaviour in construction - sustainability, diversity, cultural awareness, governance, fair trading, human capital, corporate social responsibility…… Rather than seeing such issues simply as a moral ‘nice to have’ or as an irksome burden of compliance, the speakers set out to demonstrate that good behaviour can help to do Good Business.

Janet Kidner started the session with a calmly professional presentation on Lend Lease Retail and Communities UK’s commitment to practical sustainability. As she put it, sustainability is good for their business, enhancing competitive advantage and helping to win projects, reducing running costs and attracting good people.

Suzannah Nichol, Chief Executive of the National Specialist Contractors Council, followed with a no holds barred and highly entertaining summary of why she has launched a campaign for fair payment in the supply chain. As she put it, “Major contractors here may find some of my comments uncomfortable, but the fact is, not paying on time the people who actually do the work is totally unacceptable.”

In contrast, softly spoken Bridgette Gasa took to the lectern to outline how she is tackling job creation and business support for Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises as part of major infrastructure regeneration in South Africa. She described how the long term objectives of capacity building, through individual training, business support and setting a quota of work opportunities for minority owned firms, is beginning to build human capital in a major industrial development zone.

Finally David Lane described how good behaviour is essential when setting out to tap into the vast opportunities for doing business in China. Tips on customs and etiquette included: understanding the importance of seniority, waiting to be guided to a specific seat at dinner, sniffing rather than blowing your nose into a handkerchief and remaining articulate even after significant consumption of alcohol.

Judging by the audience reaction, once again the all woman Superconference panel (ok, with one man this year) delivered a refreshing approach to familiar topics, in a tightly paced way by articulate, professional and entertaining women.

Yet, the only women speakers at the conference were the four of us on that panel! Come on everyone, let's try to redress the balance. Next time you see a pale, male and stale construction conference line-up, why not take a leaf out of David Lane’s book and simply phone up to invite yourself (or a woman you know) on to the platform. Asking firmly yet very politely, of course.

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