To celebrate International Women’s Day, Construction Times reporter Shreenidhi V. interviewed the phenomenal female faculty members of our school to understand their views and their experiences in and as women in construction sector.
Dr. Vanita Ahuja
Dr. Vanita Ahuja believes there are three categories of women in the construction Industry: professionals in the form of Architects, Engineers and Project Managers; women in administrative posts such as accountants and HR personnel; and women on site as labour hands and workers. She observes that the bulk of women in the industry fall into the third category of on-site labourers, who are paid half as much as the men, and due to the patriarchal societal mind-set, are never formally trained. She thus emphasises on the need to boost participation of women in all the three categories, and to provide them with the right kind of training to enable them to become tradespersons.
She cites the Karmika Program, a one of its kind program in Gujarat, organised by Seva, which provided formal skill training to an all women team. She observes that even countries considered as third world ones such as Kenya have all-female teams heading stalls at Construction Expos, and compared to them, India’s construction Industry still seems to have a long way to go in developing faith in its female employees and giving them such important leadership positions.
Dr. Vanita observes that these days most construction professionals in India, both men and women are switching fields or switching over to Academia because the construction industry is not being accommodative of an individual trying to maintain work-life balance. Thus, there is perhaps a need to reconsider the way in which the industry is functioning and kind of expectations it has from its professionals. She also stresses on a need for the industry to become more flexible by adopting newer technology and work methods by increasing automation, investing in virtual infrastructure and in terms of work timings perhaps by introducing flexi-hours or work-from home roles and increasing virtual participation to allow women to be able to easily take up all sorts of roles they might not be able to due to certain safety or family restrictions.
She feels that there are no women leaders or role models in the industry to look up to, and emphasizes on the need to nurture and create more women leaders in construction, because only when we see more of them at all levels in the industrial hierarchy, will the real challenges faced by women be brought to the limelight and solved.
Having worked both in the Industry and in Academia for many years, she notes it was her desire to get into Academia that made her get into it, not a compulsion due to not being able to deal with the workloads of the industry. She states that we need passionate Academicians and Professionals.
Ms. Mamta Negi
Ms. Mamta believes that women are entering and excelling worldwide in all fields and must do so in the construction industry as well, and take up all possible roles in the hierarchy. Having worked in the industry for 8 years, she observes that there are more women in desk or office jobs than women on site, which needs to change. She cites Miss Amanda Clack, President of the RICS, as one of her inspirations. As a solution, she stresses on the need for gender sensitization at all stages.
Ms. Anurita Bhatnagar
Ms. Anurita observes there are very less number of women in the informal sector in the form of unskilled workers and labourers as opposed to the formal sector in the industry. Having worked on an all-women crew on a rural housing project in Bundelkhand, she shares her experience on how when trained properly, those women went ahead to successfully complete the project before time and well within the budget. These women labourers went on to do a few more projects, but were forced to stop their work since no one had confidence in their competence. While women in higher posts don’t face such a lack of faith very often, although they do get shunted to back office posts; these women do, and it’s often coupled with lack of pay and active discrimination.
She stresses on the need to eliminate this overprotective, discriminatory mentality as it is detrimental to progress. Her experience in the Industry has been mixed, as she has often been faced by scenarios where the men who report to her question her competence solely due to her gender. She proposes education, gender sensitisation and elimination of the practice of gender specific role distribution of jobs as solutions to these problems. Zaha Hadid, Chitra Vishwanath & Nalini Thakur are her inspirations.
Ms. Deepti Shitoley
Ms. Deepti has a very positive view of the current scenario surrounding women in the construction industry. Having worked in Academia, Project Management and on site in the past 10 years, she has never experienced any discouraging situations, and attributed this to her extremely encouraging and supportive employees and co-workers. She suggests that flexible work hours be introduced, and travel be made safe and convenient for the women involved in projects to promote involvement of women all traditional and non-traditional industry roles.
Ms. Shilpi M. Singh
Ms. Shilpi does not endorse the belief that men and women are somehow different from each other. She feels that we are equals, and there is a need to fight to dispel this notion that women are not as competent as men. She has seen numerous female Architects and Engineers doing a lot of good work, and stresses on the need to recognize their contribution to the industry. She feels there is a dearth of trained women managers, and stresses on the need to train more of them and provide them with more and diverse work opportunities. Since the Construction Industry is such a large contributor to the country’s GDP, she feels that there is a need to set up skill schools in India, by either the industry or the government, that impart training on how to execute work on site for the various labourers, workmen, etc. so that the industry grows in a more organised manner and all levels of the organisational hierarchy are developed well to create a robust model and doesn’t merely produce managers or top level professionals. Having worked in India as well as abroad, she has a very mixed experience in the industry.
Ms. Susan George
Ms. George feel that women as professionals have a lot to bring to the table in terms of ideas and approach, and are capable of offering a fresher perspective regarding things in an industry that is largely male-dominated, which will lead to creation of a happy and healthy blend of skills and capabilities in the industry. Having worked largely as an Architect, she sees a lot of skepticism regarding the competence of female professionals in the Industry and stresses on the need to dispel such a dispiriting mind-set. Over the years, she has seen a steady rise in the number of women entering the industry, and feels that we must encourage such healthy participation even further.
Ms. Basu says that the Construction industry has women in prominent roles contributing to it in a valuable manner. She emphasizes on the need to let go of the notion that they are somehow inconvenienced by their gender, stating that they’re simply built environment professionals, here to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Having worked on site, she has had a lot of positive experience in the industry.
Ms. Mallik states that women in the industry are given more pre-construction jobs than site execution ones, but admits there has been more acceptance lately, and exhibits optimism for the future. She believes that being assertive and firm in your views and letting your work speak for itself will help women face challenges. She cites Architects Zaha Hadid, Didi Contractor, and Seema Devgan, one of her college professors as women she admires.
Ms. Sharma believes that women are receiving a lot of acceptance and are offered a wide number of roles in the construction industry. She states women often face problems on site due to inhospitable conditions, or other restrictions, which is why you don't see a lot of women on site at the professional level. But there are a lot of firms that are not only hiring female employees for key positions, but also creating provisions to foster conducive work atmosphere for them. She cites her father as her main source of inspiration, and the female faculty members at our School, who were the first few women she saw actively involved in the construction industry.