Fervid Feelings about Women Leadership (Built Environment) on Women’s Day 2020

As the annual ritual called International Women’s Day comes upon us fast and furiously, I struggled with the
cynical dilemma of whether ‘to- write- or- not- to- write -one-more-piece-on-women’ akin to the ‘to- be- or-not- to- be’ types. Mercifully it sorted itself out, on all counts. I realised that I Write… (professionally), I Think (Descarte), I AM… (a Woman), and therefore… I Should. The next dilemmas lay in the tone I should choose, ranting, wistful, philosophical, factual? The choice of content, male bashing, historically disadvantaged, present imperfect? I decided a call to action appeal suited me best.

Recently, at the Women’s Economic Forum (WEF) in New Delhi, I had addressed scores of strong and accomplished women. WEF is a worldwide body of women providing circles of sisterhood in the most varied of professions. I soon realised that there too, I was the only woman representing the built environment (BE). In general, there’s very little noise about women’s issues in BE. It’s about time one upped the ante, considering there are millions engaged in this profession in India.

Women in India form 25-30 percent of the total labour force. The International Labour Organisation Rights for
Women Workers followed in India are, Equal Pay; Equal Treatment; Human Resource Development Maternity Protection; Combine Work and Domestic Responsibilities; Paid Work; Promotion and Protection (Conventions 100, 111, 142 and I03, 156, 168 and 158 respectively); Safe & Healthy Work Environment free from Sexual Harassment, Resolution 1985. The Indian Constitution specially deals with Women’s Rights in Article 23 and 24 (i.e. right against exploitation), as a 'Fundamental Right' alongwith Article 39 clauses (e) and (f) and Article 45. However, construction sites all over India are testimony of the actual state. Deprived and ignored is their sordid reality in India, compared to the developed world where facilities like protective gear, hygienic working conditions, privacy, safety from sexual exploitation and harassment are ‘normal’ rights backed by enforced punitive provisions in law. In Tier II and III towns there are even more doubts as to their treatment. Exceptions are witnessed only in case of large infrastructure projects that access international development funding or enlightened corporates who believe in providing better working conditions.

Now for the educated and qualified women in BE. Analysis of the thousands of professionally qualified women appears no different, comparative to the context. How many Female executives in the profession are seen at the top of BE firms, or sitting on company boards? Those that are, are likely either scions or relatives. How many women are being given a fair chance to lead blue chip construction, infrastructure and real estate organisations? How many women have been empowered and facilitated into leadership transitions? Current figures are abysmally low, ranging from 1-3 percent. Have we done enough, are we doing enough for both the sections of women in BE?

The jury is out on both.

The BE sector would lose more than it has, if it further delays Affirmative Action on diversity and inclusion. Systematically moving women into senior positions is urgently needed. There is also a dire need to provide meaty career profiles, development training, women friendly working environments, on ramping options, coaching and pipeline management.

This is a Call To Action to all industry leaders, educators, government bodies….

Hundreds of my wonderful female students and others like them, accomplished, achievers and ambitious as they are, cannot wait for eternity, for the glass to break up there!

Mona N. Shah (Ph.D. MBA, DHL)

Founder and Director Vayati Systems and Research Inc

Former Dean – SOPRIM- NICMAR, Pune; RICS -SBE Amity University

Key References:

Shah M.N., (2006) ‘Converting Human Dignity Issues into Contractual Obligations’. Journal of Indian Buildings Congress. Indian Buildings Congress, Vol. 13 No.2, 123-131 New Delhi.

Women Construction Workers, Basic Rights. Construction Workers Federation of India Accessed on 5 th March,

Kalpana Devi and U. V. Kiran (2013). Status of Female Workers in Construction Industry in India: A Review. IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 14, Issue 4 (Sep. – Oct. 2013), PP 27-30 e-ISSN: 2279-0837, p-ISSN: 2279-0845.

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