BIM Today’s resident argumentative BIMster John Eynon discusses, as only he can, diversity, divisions and why difference will make the difference for the future of the industry
This blog was going to be called “Maybe I should have a vagina.” But now it is called “Maybe we should all have vaginas” – The Vagina Chronicles chapter 8: The Integration Conundrum.
If you know your Star Trek history then actually I really, really, really wanted to call this The Corbamite Manoeuvre, but as much as I love Jim very much, Corbamite has nothing to do with vaginas. And so…
Setting the scene
In this video, Ellie Taylor on The Mash Report makes a point on behalf of women everywhere – what’s it like to live with constant scrutiny? (Warning – industrial strong language from the start!)
Or see the furore about Tracy Brabin MP’s off-the-shoulder dress in parliament. I wonder if the colour of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s tie would cause such a debate? Why do we feel we can comment on a woman’s dress sense but not a man’s?
Or, get this CIOB Digital Construction Summit’s all-male line-up – a classic own goal. As a woman, what would you think as you had to sit in the audience and listen to eight men talk about BIM? Where are the role models? It’s not like we’re short of women in BIM and leading female exponents. If the CIOB can’t get diversity right, what hope for the rest of us?
The stereotype strikes back
I know and fully recognise that I am the archetypal industry stereotype. White, British, male, professional, middle-aged (to be kind!) and grew up in an industry with nude calendars on the wall and male chauvinism in the extreme. So believe me I know. I accept I am the product of a biased industry, but I could do with some love too.
I applaud and support as much as I can, and have done in the past, initiatives on gender balance, diversity and sexuality. I am a dinosaur, albeit a reconstructed dinosaur. I fully accept that and know my time is coming to an end, I am perhaps lumbering around in my own twilight here. Sometimes I recognise the old dinosaur lurking in the shadows and he likes to make an appearance now and then.
We see groups for women, ethnic minorities, sexuality /gender groups and so on, formed almost every week – and that’s great. They provide networks of support and inspiration in times of difficulty and also help people to move forward together. And, of course, there are various initiatives that focus on support, promotion and career development for minorities.
We can see things are changing. We’re talking about the issues, it’s on the radar screen for most organisations but we have a long way to go. And women are making inroads.
But…there is a “but” coming isn’t there?!
What next? At what point do these groups and initiatives become redundant? Because all we do is create more and more silos in an industry already overrun You can see the current playing field for women and minorities is not level and at various times, I’ve been in favour of quotas, initiatives, groups and all sorts of things but I don’t know that any of them are really the single answer here.
The issue is the underlying attitude of the people who make the decisions. And, sadly, most of them are white, middle-aged, professionals in grey suits…And of course any change in “the rules” leads to unfairness to others, with fragmentation as it is. It seems that every time there’s an issue, our default response is to form a new group or have a working group, which is okay but really? It’s just another silo. Yet another communication boundary.
The key here is to deal with the underlying culture that drives how this works, the conscious and unconscious biases, the blockers, the manipulators and the powerbrokers. This is a much bigger challenge and a much longer burn. The groups and initiatives on all these issues are in a way like sticking plaster: it provides a tick in the box, a salve to conscience, to say yep we’re doing something, but the underlying reality could still be quite different. Do you see the underlying culture-changing among the decisionmakers?
Just do a check for yourself. How many women, BAME and LGBTQ+ are on the board of your organisation? How many women, BAME and LGBTQ+ do you have in senior leadership positions?
Uh-huh. Thought so. Not so good is it?
Crossing the white line
Dear people, I would love there to be a time soon when we can just talk about ability, skill and performance and not have to worry about gender balance, diversity, ethnicity, sexuality and preferences at all. To be living and working in a system and society that is fair and just to all. But look around and you can see it ain’t so.
We are living in a messed up society and it’s really questionable whether it’s getting better at all. In a broader perspective, many (most? all?) of the political and social systems that are supposed to serve us for our benefit, just don’t. Someone usually does benefit, but it’s certainly not the majority.
For me, the question is really about having a vision for a time when we are just focused on performance, ability and skill, and not gender, sexuality, ethnicity and the rest, and when that is fair and equal for all people. Then we will have achieved real change. But for now, no way, not by a long shot.
You can see the current playing field for women and minorities is not level and at various times, I’ve been in favour of quotas, initiatives, groups and all sorts of things but I don’t know that any of them are really the single answer here. The issue is the underlying attitude of the people who make the decisions. And, sadly, most of them are white, middle-aged, professionals in grey suits…And of course any change in “the rules” leads to unfairness to others, even though the rules have been skewed in their favour for centuries, millennia perhaps.
Waiting for Godot
I would say wait for the Millennials, Gen Zers and iGenenration to come through, but I’m not sure what kind of industry they really want anyway and whether they actually want to hang around to lead the change rather than chase hub caps somewhere and have a good time – apologies, I may have succumbed to a stereotype there!
I think we might have to just wait and see. But just remember all these niche groups, movements and initiatives should have a limited shelf life. Their aim should be to do themselves out of a job, out of existence. I wonder if they see it like that? Have they defined what success looks like?
The goal is something much bigger here. It is going to take a long time and hard work influencing, moving, shifting. Which is where I ended first time round, but then I began thinking some more.
Which is when my thinking changed and I thought, “maybe we should all have vaginas”. Let’s just all be the same. But no doubt then we’d quickly find something else to discriminate against and bias people on. What would a world be like where we are all just the same, behave the same, think and say the same?
Dead. No life.
Isn’t diversity our strength? The different views, experiences, perspectives that any group of humankind brings to the table? Aren’t there studies that suggest that gender-balanced teams perform better?
The creative process of anything has to be in the fiery furnace of conflict and angst – the most wonderful creations and ideas emerge from a process that challenges, refines, suffers and enhances. If we all just said “oh, that’s nice” then the level of human attainment in any sphere would plummet like a stone.
We need each other. And we need each other to be different.
Check out Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed. Matthew discusses diversity, blind spots and much more. Diverse teams…just succeed. They consistently outperform their blinkered rivals. Speaking as someone who seems to have been in a different corner, finally there might be some hope for me! But too late, cruel world!
And now…for some hope
It is our differences that make the difference. That can and will make the difference. I need you to be different. You need me to be different. But those differences need to be girded with respect, love and care for our fellow humans – and total acceptance with no judgement. In that way, we can help everyone to be the very best they can be. And they can help us. Including the old dinosaur that is me. Isn’t that what we should be doing? And, hey, let’s be careful out there.
John Eynon is an ageing and argumentative architect, design manager and BIMster. He lives on the south coast near the sea, and you can catch up with him at www.zenanddm.com.
Open Water Consulting