When Sal Brinton pioneered considerate behaviour contracts for builders

We had a very productive Everyday Sexism Open Mic event in Edinburgh on Saturday. Most of the content, rightly, should not be discussed on here but I have Sal Brinton’s permission to share with you something she told us about her efforts to make sure that female students were not harassed when construction work took place at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge where she was bursar.

From her Facebook:

Yesterday at the Scottish Lib Dem Women Anti Sexism Open Mike session I referred to having the first considerate behaviour contract with builders in 1994 when I was Bursar at Lucy Cavendish College (an all women’s college in Cambridge), which was grabbed by the press as ‘a ban on wolf whistling’. It was August, and the story went viral and I was doing TV and radio interviews around the world (Canada, Thailand, Europe).

I’m delighted that most major construction companies now use Considerate Contractor undertakings, and here’s a clip from the Daily Mail in 2008, when they did an update on the story on how behaviour affects women house buyers.

Sadly, it is very clear that wolf whistling and its modern equivalent, trolling,still persist. Women often feel they daren’t say anything as it may make things worse, and we need help from witnesses (male and female) to point out such behaviour is unwanted and unacceptable.

This is what the Mail said about the Lucy Cavendish contract, quoting Sal:

In 1994, the women-only Lucy Cavendish College at Cambridge University made builders sign a ‘good conduct’ clause when they won a £2million contract to build two residential halls and a new dining hall.

Notices went up around the college ordering the 50 builders to ‘behave like gentlemen’ to the 150 female students and staff.

They were also warned against wolfwhistling and swearing.

At the time, college bursar Sal Brinton said: ‘Wolf-whistling can be offensive. We made it a condition of the contract that workers had to behave courteously and the builders were happy to agree.

‘The code of behaviour also bans radios and stops builders shouting from the tops of buildings.’

She added: ‘We have told them we do not want pin-ups inside the building in case they are seen by female members of staff checking the work.’


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I do hope there aren’t any rules in the contracts about builders climbing down from the scaffolding and politely asking someone out on a date otherwise people like my parents would never have got together!

    It is a quarter of a century plus since I went to university but I seem to remember that lecherous post-grads were the main problem.

  • Rosie Sharpley 24th Aug '15 - 10:18am

    I was really encouraged by this initative and thank you Caron for this initial feedback. It is good too that our President has such good track record in being “on the case”. I would like to spare a thought too for the other side of the coin as this issue can also affect men who may be less likely to come forward if they have to operate in an all female environment. It is a matter of balance I suppose and what is required is to foster respect, commitment to empowerment and most of all good manners. I look forward to following the debate in its widest context. Liberal Democrats by their very nature should be best placed to lead the way.

  • Ed Shepherd 24th Aug '15 - 5:46pm

    No radio whilst working? Why not? Don’t people realise how boring and soul-destroying most manual jobs are without a radio? What if they listened to radio 4 or radio 3? No swearing? Don’t the female undergraduates swear sometimes? To be honest, I find most builders swear less than educated people and are more polite too. This is an interesting insight into an attempt to prevent sexual harassment that seems to have turned into an example of the glaring divide in society between those at different ends of the social spectrum. Cambridge undergrads at one end of society and manual workers at the other. Never the twain shall meet!

  • “Cambridge undergrads at one end of society and manual workers at the other. Never the twain shall meet!”

    Obviously not read Lawrence or Hardy… 🙂

    Reading the article what came to mind was just how much the construction industry has changed, both in terms of the greater diversity of people it employs and the increasing professionalism now demanded. Not to say we should sit back, but certainly we can (and probably should) take time to pat backs.

  • peter tyzack 25th Aug '15 - 10:17am

    Quite wrong, Ed Shepherd, many quality construction companies are now adopting this no radio approach. It makes them better neighbours and sets a more professional on-site standard, which conveys itself into the quality of the work produced. The worst part of radios on sites is that you are forced to listen to somebody else’s choice of musak.. it also conveys an arrogance on the part of the radio owner.. Anyway, they have now invented earpieces for the mindless.

  • Ed, the radio ban was a very practical one. The building site was in the middle of the college, with students working in their rooms. It was hard enough to plan for the noisy parts of the building work during the vacations, but during term time we had to ensure that our students could work without distraction.

    Ruth – we didn’t mind anything done courteously! And the builders found the contract worked for them too. I also said to our students they had to show similar respect for the builders – which they did. Probably the best natured building contract I have ever been involved in.

  • Thanks Sal!

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