Any industry suffering from a skills shortage is shooting itself in the foot if it doesn’t make itself an attractive career option for the entire population. But that’s where we in the construction sector find ourselves, having failed to attract a diverse workforce.
Women make up only around 13% of construction sector workers, a number that hasn’t changed much for two decades. Furthermore, that number flatters us when you consider that only 2% of on-site workers are female.
The lack of progress is unacceptable. We simply have to do better at creating the conditions to attract and retain more women in construction careers.
I’m pleased that the CIOB has been vocal on this issue. Of course, the fact that CIOB now has a female President in Rebecca Thompson is a great example, and Rebecca made diversity a central theme of her Presidency from the start.
There are some other female leaders in our sector to highlight. I am privileged to have been Chairman of two organisations run by female CEOs – Sarah Beale at CITB and Suzannah Nichol at Build UK. Like CIOB, these are organisations that are central to the whole industry, and I hope that the examples they set for inspiring women have a ripple effect throughout the sector.
Still, we have a long way to go. I would venture to say that in the construction sector we need a fundamental attitude shift towards inclusiveness. It’s not just about gender. Nor is it just about ethnicity, disability, or any other characteristic of identity; it’s also about values, experiences and different ways of viewing the world.
Research by management consultants McKinsey showed that diversity is a key driver of innovation, and there’s a high correlation of diversity and success. McKinsey’s 2015 report “Why Diversity Matters” shows that gender diverse companies are 14% more likely to perform better than those that are not gender diverse. And ethnically diverse companies are 33% more likely to perform better.
If we want construction to perform better, looking to make ourselves more inclusive is a good place to start. To inspire more people to pursue careers in construction, we’ve got to create and publicly promote workplaces that are all about enabling people to realise their potential, and in which everyone feels valued for what they do.
Technological tools like BIM and modern methods of construction are creating a greater diversity of jobs, and we’ve got to reflect those in how we present ourselves. We need to consider, for example, whether the stock photos of men (or women) in hard hats is really the image of the industry we want to present.
It also helps to carry this message directly to young women, for example in outreach to schools.
And rather than each company developing and running their own individual outreach programmes, we would be wise to join together behind the Build UK/ CITB Construction Ambassadors scheme, which coordinates visits and ensures that we are efficient in our efforts.
If we all do our own separate thing, we’ll continue to appear disjointed, with each effort having a small benefit, but falling short of the big attitude shift that we need.
So through these collaborative efforts we can improve the inclusiveness of our workplaces, attract and retain a broader set of skills and insights, and ultimately boost the very performance of our businesses.