The (sexist) “image of construction”

HammersXRumblings of Twitter discontent quickly surfaced last night from the 10th Construction Computing Awards (hashtag: #Hammers2015) in London. I was at a different event (the IBP Journalism awards), but I had half an eye on what was happening across the city, and early signs of negativity were quickly apparent.

Su Butcher has detailed the events. Briefly, it appears that a so-called “comedian” (Josh Daniels) decided to poke fun, first, at a table of women and then an Irish male guest (Tony Ryan of SaaS software vendor Asite, who I know well) who complained about Daniels’ sexism. Two members of the audience walked out in protest, and the story has been well discussed on Twitter today, with the organisers hurriedly apologising to two of the attendees this morning (see this Storify) – but not, so far as I know, more publicly to others (less vocal) who were also offended.

Awards and PR – an awkward marriage

Viewpoint Hammers 2015 winners - at an event overshadowed by online protests about sexist comments from the event's 'comedian'.

Viewpoint Hammers 2015 winners – at an event overshadowed by online protests about sexist comments from the event’s ‘comedian’.

I have long held an ambivalent view of the “Hammers” (I had a protracted online exchange with one of the previous organisers of the event in 2007, and, after years of muttering about its decision-making processes, in July this year I again suggested it might make its awards process more transparent and impartial). Of course, awards events can provide strong content for PR practitioners and their employers/clients (today, for example, I’ve seen several tweets and a couple of blog posts from companies, including Asite, Viewpoint and Conject, that won “Hammers”); ignoring them can be difficult if it leaves the door open to competitors to shout about winning industry accolades, however prestigious. And they are a hugely lucrative earner for awards promoters with award sponsorships and entertainment packages to sell.

However, as this latest episode shows, they can also backfire unexpectedly. As Su outlined, the “Hammers” has not been the only construction industry awards event hit by accusations of sexism this autumn (she mentions the CIOB CMYA Awards, and the Bentley Be Inspired Awards – both of which I attended). Such storms underline how deep-rooted some industry attitudes remain; while an industry awards event may seek to show the sector at its best, misguided attempts at “humour” or “championing women” can end up exposing the misogyny (conscious and unconscious) that still lurks beneath many parts of the sector. And sometimes the protests aren’t greater because:

  • guests don’t want to upset their hosts
  • PR and marketing people don’t want to upset their clients or employers
  • award hopefuls don’t want to upset organisers and risk being excluded from future awards (kind of underlining my point about the need for transparency and separation between the commercial and judging elements of such events), and
  • ultimately, sometimes we’re just too damned polite!

I responded to Su’s post, citing my very different impression of the IBP event:

There was no sexism apparent at last night’s IBP awards. This is hardly surprising given that in construction and property journalism, PR and marketing, we have – compared to other parts of the construction industry – a much higher representation of women among our professions (though the same might also be true in other construction areas such as HR, law, accounting, administration and clerical support).

Awards nights should be about celebrating what is best about our industry, not about perpetuating sexist, stereotypical views that perpetuate the industry’s current poor reputation. I applaud those people that took a stand against the so-called “comedy” act. This is the 21st century, and such “entertainment” has no place in a modern industry event.

Update (23 November 2015)BIMCrunch reports an apology from Construction Computing Awards organiser Josh Boulton:

“We are a small team, and we are absolutely devastated about this. Some of the routine on the night was not what we had seen before and we sincerely apologise to anyone who was offended by the comedian. Two people did walk out, and we apologised to them swiftly on Twitter. Those people have kindly accepted our apologies on social media and we will work hard to ensure that an instance like this does not happen again.”

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