An industry is only as good as its people. Improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a challenge for all sectors. As an industry faced with a significant skills shortages, it makes business – as well as ethical – sense to send out a strong message that construction is a viable and attractive career choice for people from all backgrounds. How can we make sure that they will be welcomed, encouraged and supported within the industry?
Overall, around 14% of the construction workforce are women, with only 2% of these being site operatives. The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. Only 11% of the engineering workforce is female, and only 5% of registered engineers and technicians are women . Researchers estimate that at the current rate, it will take almost 200 years to achieve gender equality in the construction industry.
The industry average for ethnic diversity is around 13%, according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). In 2019, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey showed that in the fourth quarter of the previous year just 5.4 percent of construction workers were BAME.
The construction sector aims to provide a diverse range of buildings and infrastructure projects that serve the community. If our projects are to serve the needs of the diverse community the fact that the workforce at all levels doesn’t match that diversity presents a challenge to us all. According to research from Business in the Community, just 3.4% of all construction managers in the UK are from ethnic minorities. This percentage does not reflect the general population as, based on the most recent census data, 14% of the population comes from ethnic minority groups.
How might we address the current imbalance? Education is a start so that everyone involved in the built environment is more aware – not just of the current imbalance but of the benefits flowing from a diverse workforce.
In an interview with Construction Manager, Anjali Pindoria, Project surveyor at Avi Contracts, said: “I blame this on the lack of education on how to interact with people you have never worked with. There’s nothing at that level to educate people about cultures and traditions.” Looking at recruitment practices, Skanska equality, diversion and inclusion manager Alice Jennison says that they have improved their diversity through the use of ‘blind CVs’, in which identifying characteristics not relevant to the job description are omitted from the CV through the recruitment process. Skanska has also built partnerships with local universities and technical colleges that have a diverse range of students, in keeping with the communities they serve.
So, whether there’s unconscious bias in the minds of those recruiting, or whether a preconceived notion of what a construction worker looks like is deterring potential applicants, there’s a wealth of research, training and good practice out there that will help us map the route towards improvement. The construction industry must grasp the opportunity to show that it is changing for the better. It must be an industry that is open to all, with a workforce that welcomes a diverse range of talent and ability that truly reflects our population. I believe that there are opportunities arising out of an increase in the use of off-site techniques along with the advances in Digital and Technological capabilities to really drive this agenda.
On top of that are the opportunities that can come from flexible working. According to some research funded by Sir Robert McAlpine into flexible working, 66% of construction firms are planning to retain home working after the coronavirus pandemic. Out of the horror of Covid-19 we may well be looking at a better work environment that drives inclusion and improves the work-life balances for all.
I am pleased to see that CIOB is to appoint an Equality, Diversion and Inclusion Transformation Lead with a role in developing our global strategy in this vitally important area. We will see the impact of that role in the weeks and months to follow.