There is a strong movement at the moment for gender and diversity balance amongst most industries, particularly in construction.

There is some great work and drive to provide equal opportunities for people of all backgrounds – the benefits of having a diverse workforce are clear.

There are some passionate people who are unwittingly damaging the cause by failing to recognise that their own campaign is discriminating against those so called people who have held them back.

I am still fairly new to the world of construction. 18 months to be precise.

I spent a few years working in the Metropolitan Police Service which is not perfect when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but I can honestly say you’ll be hard pushed to find any other organisation that gives you a safer place to be exactly who you are. The ‘institutionally racist’ tag was something that could not be ignored and it was in the public interest to ensure that radical change took place to stamp out discrimination and get rid of all people deemed unfit for the police service.

This took over 20 years and they are now in a place where people of all backgrounds, age, gender, sexuality, disability and class feel free to enjoy their roles without the fear of being labelled. One of the first and residing key messages at police training school is that there is no place for discrimination, it must be challenged and there is no warning – you’re out. Some people didn’t make it to the end. That’s great. If their reasons for leaving had anything to do with the above then it is better to know now rather than when they’re let loose on the streets.

So I am in no doubt that my background in policing may have over-sensitised me to any ‘isms.’ Throughout the years I have found myself challenging people about their casual comments. More often there was never any malice and they thought it was ok when there was no one around who might take offence. But the fact is, I took offence. Why? Why would I be uncomfortable about a comment that didn’t relate to me or was directed at me?

I recently attended an equality, diversity and inclusion event which I had been looking forward to for some time. I couldn’t wait to hear from the great line up of speakers and how we could do more to promote and encourage EDI within our businesses.

However, that enthusiasm quickly dried up once I’d heard the term – several times over. It’s not the first time and it probably will not be my last – for now. Middle.Aged.White.Men.

Middle aged white men – a term used to describe a group of people who are at the helm of decision making – was really starting to irritate me. I was ready to walk out after one speaker decided the term ‘old, pale and stale’ was far more ear catching. I couldn’t concentrate for the remainder of their speech – I was agitated and my body temperature had started to rise. A third of the room was filled with people we were alienating – our allies – who had paid to attend in the hope they could help address the gender and diversity imbalance within their businesses. Poor guys. If I was one of them I certainly would not want to return to another of these events.

Most people would identify me as an introvert and someone who would ordinarily shy away from any kind of public speaking, but I had this overwhelming desire to stay and grabbed the opportunity for the microphone to highlight the detrimental use of this language. Even though I am neither old, pale or stale, those comments seriously upset me. The very thing we are trying to stamp out is what we are doing ourselves in trying to achieve diversity and this term is gaining traction. We can all be a little guilty of passive discrimination but there is no change without honesty.

This was a reminder for me that inclusion should mean inclusion for all. Yes, women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds are under represented within our industry and we should do all we can to promote and support opportunities, but not at the expense of segregating other groups – no matter how privileged their current positions may seem.

I attend quite a few of these events and will continue to do so – if I have to challenge and disrupt then so be it. This type of language and inevitable culture will lead to people believing that they were given that role or promotion because their bosses didn’t want to be accused of being in the boys club – not because they truly were the best candidate for the job. As a female of ethnic background I know which one I would rather believe and equality revenge is not one of them.

Written by Kay Ortatepe, Group Health, Safety and Environmental Trainee | MHFA Instructor, Willmott Dixon


Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.