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08 Mar 2022

CEO Blog: International Women’s Day: Walk the talk

With the issue of appropriation such a hot potato one must tread carefully when heralding the importance of International Women’s Day if you are male! However, remaining silent would risk fuelling the problem, hinder the delivery of solutions and maintain the paradigm.

IWD_DSC_2372_230099_S.jpgOnce again, I not only acknowledge International Women’s Day but welcome it. Recognising and celebrating women’s achievements in every facet of our lives internationally, nationally and locally must come naturally and instinctively. Whilst there is evidence of continuing progress and improvement there is undoubtedly some considerable way to go. Having considered the issues with greater commitment in recent years I realise that misogyny, both conscious and unconscious, is all around us and too often it makes its ugly presence felt to the disadvantage of women.

I believe more strongly than ever in our collective responsibility to actively inspire and enable the next generation of females at school, college, university and those in apprenticeships or starting their careers, as well as developing those already established in the world of work to reach their full potential.

Our industry cannot change society on an issue as massive as equality of opportunity, but it can change itself. And whilst the industry is undoubtedly ‘on the move’ with countless good examples of progress, the commitment is uneven and moving at different paces in different places. To achieve change we must embed the drivers of change into our management all year round.

In my continuous engagement with our members, I increasingly meet women in more operational, commercial and technical roles widening their influence beyond the  traditional functions of finance, HR and admin. It is inspiring to meet young leaders where key industry issues like decarbonisation, resource use and nature conservation are hard-wired into their thinking. They are part the future of our industry and rightly want not just equal opportunity but equal recognition and reward.

Driving and influencing change must start closest to where each and every one of us stands in the world and where we can improve the operating environment around us most.

With no sense of complacency, I am proud to say that the MPA staff team is currently equally balanced 50/50 by gender. Women make up 42% of the senior positions and 55% of the technical, specialist and other support functions. My Executive Committee of Directors will be 50/50 male to female from the spring with my female colleagues responsible for communications, cement and concrete product sectors, and economic affairs to name but a few.

For our events we aim to have 50/50 gender balance for presenters, speakers and panellists. Sometimes we are unable to achieve the balance we seek but it is not for the want of trying. Our Board of Directors – drawn from our member companies – does however remain 100% male, exemplifying the slow pace of evolution in a traditional ‘heavy side’ and manufacturing sector which has yet to fully reflect the changes that companies have been working hard to redress, and will undoubtedly become fully realised in future years.

For MPA as an association, ‘People’ is one of our seven Strategic Priorities. Two of our four main objectives directly link to the opportunity agenda, improving the profile and perception of this great industry and encouraging career opportunities for all. The skills we need are changing, growing and widening and the opportunities similarly so. Being part of an essential foundation industry is a wonderful thing and the challenges are genuinely fascinating – whether it’s climate change, recycling, biodiversity gain or numerous other issues.

So how do we showcase all the opportunities we can offer? How do we grow the leaders for tomorrow? How do we replace our ageing workforce? Not by staying the same. There needs to be a cultural revolution underpinned by a more conscious and consistent push to reach out more inclusively, and particularly to women, for roles at all levels in all parts of the sector. That process has begun, but it needs energising and accelerating as it is not only right for our people, it is good for business.

Our industry knows all this, of course, and great strides have been made particularly in recent years, but we are still mainly ‘male and pale’ although we are far from alone on the heavy side of the economy. There is a common challenge especially across mineral extraction, manufacturing and engineering sectors about how to effect change sensibly, sensitively but purposefully.

So, as I said last year, let’s commit right now that by next year’s International Women’s Day we can show measurable progress compared to this year. More female Directors on boards, in more senior commercial and operational roles. More representation on industry bodies, more speakers and hosts at industry events, more profiles in our media. More young voices being heard, more champions being recognised. More potential leaders being supported to lead at all levels in more roles. Let us seize the obvious opportunities that are in front of us and all try to ‘walk the talk’ faster every day.

MPA Chief Executive Nigel Jackson