Is it time to kill off the corporate golf day?

Lewis Yorke-Johnson is co-founder of construction recruitment firm The Shore Group. On Friday (3 May) he announced on LinkedIn that his firm was ending corporate golf days due to the sport’s lack of diversity. The post caused a huge stir, with more than 125,000 views and dozens of comments. Below, Construction News exclusively publishes an expanded version of the original post.

The final preparations are underway for what promises to be our best-ever charity golf day, so it might seem strange to announce that it’ll also be our last.

But why call time on an event that raises so much money for good causes, brings our clients from all sectors together and is the centrepiece of our events calendar?

Well, it started with a friendly ‘earbashing’ from two women in our team following a client event in London.

They opened my eyes to the stark gender inequality in the room that night, how this made them feel and how fundamentally wrong it was.

It was hard to know what was worse, the fact that the diversity was so low or that me (and I’m guessing most other men in the room) were oblivious to it.

It started a chain of events that brings me round to this year’s golf day.

Looking back

Last year’s fundraiser at the amazing Foxhills Golf Club was an incredible day filled with camaraderie, competition, and charitable spirit.

The overwhelming support we received meant we made raised a tidy sum. Not only that but the feedback afterwards from everyone who attended was incredible and we didn’t hesitate to re-book. ‘Why change a winning formula?’ we thought.

But the stark reality that we were blind to, was that out of 100 golfers, we had one female golfer.

We hadn’t purposely excluded anyone, but rather we had done what I believe most of our industry does, and go along with the norms.

We’d subconsciously picked a male-dominated sport (less than 30 per cent of golfers are women) and ended up with even lower diversity than the total construction industry (just over 10 per cent are female).

The result meant our flagship charity event had virtually zero gender diversity.

Stubborn blind spots

Over the past 10 years, the gender diversity in our business has grown to around 40 per cent female. So, while we’re heading in the right direction, we’re still on the journey.

The increase in our female employees hasn’t been intentional, by any means.

It’s been a subconscious trend because I see the direct link between better culture and decision-making, and diversity.

Despite this, I still had a blind spot to the lack of diversity in the room that night, which is niggling away at me.

Since I had my eyes opened, we’ve formed a gender diversity working group and engaged with industry leaders like Siu Mun Li to identify ways we can be part of the push towards real change.

Our business spans multiple parts of the construction supply chain so we’ve explored the challenges women face on site, as well as those in office-based roles.

But the reality is that boosting gender diversity has been on the construction industry’s to-do list for years.

Despite great work from industry leaders, awards ceremonies and groups like Women in Construction, the numbers of women at work stubbornly refuses to rise.

The lack of progress is particularly concerning when you consider the moral and business imperative of greater gender diversity.

It’s unquestionably part of the answer to the skills shortage and low productivity in the sector.

So how do we shift the dial?

Looking forward

Working with my team and network, I see a number of ways in which we can help drive real change.

We need far more men at all levels in the sector to become allies for gender diversity.

Women-only events and awards shine the spotlight but when such a vast proportion of our workforce is male, I believe we need far more men to become uncomfortable with the status quo and change-makers in the industry.

And allyship starts with awareness.

I don’t believe that many of the men at that charity fundraiser would have been comfortable with the lack of diversity if they’d been aware.

This isn’t to make excuses and say we shouldn’t be more aware anyway, but sometimes you do need someone else to shine a spotlight for you.

Change follows awareness.

Armed with greater awareness, we can invest our collective resources, challenge industry norms and boost diversity at every opportunity.

Which includes our charity golf day. So, in future, either we can hold a golf day that reflects the diversity ambitions of our business, or we’ll plan an event where we can.

Because the brutal truth is that the money raised on charity golf days helps the most amazing causes and is a great way for our sector to give back.

But building greater gender diversity might be an even bigger legacy for the construction industry to leave behind.

Information on this year’s Inspiring Women in Construction & Engineering Conference & Awards – hosted by Construction News and sister titles New Civil Engineer and Ground Engineering – can be found here

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