There has been a noticeable and much-needed shift within construction in recent years towards greater understanding and acceptance of the benefits that Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) play in the workplace and wider society. Currently the construction sector remains a male-dominated industry across the globe, resulting in greater focus on improving inclusion and diversity for many employers and industry bodies.
The UK Equality Act 2010 identifies nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender, gender identity, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and philosophical beliefs, sexual orientation, and marriage and civil partnerships. The employee make-up of the construction industry is not diverse and main areas of concern over recent years centre on improving EDI for women, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals, those with a disability and those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ+).
- Women make up 15 per cent of the UK construction industry, with approximately 2 per cent working on-site
- BAME employees make up 6 per cent of the workforce
- Disabled employees also make up 6 per cent of the workforce
- 60 per cent of LGBTQ+ employees have experienced homophobic and derogatory terms at work
Unfortunately, the exact figure for those working in construction who identify as LGBTQ+ is unclear. In 2018, Stonewall found that more than a third of LGBTQ+ staff in Britain have hidden or disguised their identity at work because they are afraid of discrimination.
With a large proportion of the construction industry made up of white males, there is a significant risk of unconscious bias in decision making, and a tendency for cultures to be shaped around the majority view. This often results in acceptance of inappropriate behaviour and language as “normal” practice, leaving those on the receiving end of discriminatory or offensive comments or behaviour to decide that a career in construction is not for them. This means that our industry will lack innovation and different viewpoints, which a diverse workforce promotes.
Whilst there is a growing awareness and understanding from both a leadership and management level when it comes to EDI, this is not translating effectively into practice on-site. There are reports from those working in the industry about the lack of female sized PPE available, non-male toilets being locked where workers need to ask for a key from a male supervisor because the space is being used to store equipment, and comments about their gender, sexuality or appearance. Furthermore, employees from minorities have experienced a lack of inclusion in conversations and have cited that concerns about diversity have not been taken seriously.
The benefits of increasing diversity in the workforce are numerous. It brings different thinking to the table, ensuring the widest range of ideas are explored, and makes the industry more representative of its customers and wider society. The built environment is for everyone and the more inclusive the industry can become, the more it will serve the needs of our communities.
An inclusive culture and greater diversity also increases the pool of talent available to industries, and can lead to increased earning potential. A study by McKinsey & Company found a strong relationship between gender diversity and performance, with an increase of 3.5 per cent in earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) for every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity in the senior executive team (and a 1.4 per cent increase for the board). A report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found evidence that by implementing good equality and diversity practice, the industry will have a wider pool of talent available from under-represented groups, a more diverse supply chain with better support for small businesses and improved on-site working relationships based on respect for everyone’s differences.
It is essential that a genuine commitment to EDI is recognised for the many benefits it can bring for employers, employees, customers and the industry as a whole. Box ticking will not cut it and progressive and positive policies and behaviours in this area need to be established with real commitment behind them. The sector is already experiencing skills shortages, and the changes happening as a result of digitalisation and modern methods of construction will likely call for workers from varied backgrounds to innovate and help implement and establish new ways of working. Creating a more inclusive workplace will help to make our industry attractive to those who have never considered a career in construction.
Construction sites often bring together numerous workers and professionals from different companies who are at different stages of addressing EDI. It can be difficult to bring all workers together to address issues and change behaviours when working across companies, however, clients can play an important role in setting the tone. Clients who make their expectations clear on EDI at procurement stage will help to set the right tone for creating inclusive sites and ways of working.
If the industry is to realise its ambitions to become more inclusive and more diverse, change needs to start with leadership. Leaders have enormous potential to influence others through their own inclusive, supportive, and respectful behaviour. Increased training and awareness for EDI has been linked with positive behaviour and cultural change. EDI programmes should set the expectations and standards, the implications of different types of bias, and the impact that organisations’ systems, processes and cultures play in either creating or discouraging inclusion.
The benefits of a diverse workforce are clear. It can mean new ways of thinking, working and growing a resilient business. CIOB recognises the potential of these opportunities and support programmes such as Building Equality (an alliance of construction trades working with more than 50 organisations in the industry), Considerate Constructors and Go Construct.
CIOB is fully committed to improving EDI in the construction industry and for the first time we have appointed an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Transformation Lead who reports directly to the CEO. They have a remit to examine what CIOB are doing in-house with our recruitment practices and culture, alongside understanding our membership and how we can best support those from under-represented groups to access career opportunities and visibility.
CIOB is currently developing its first EDI Action Plan. Aligned with CIOB’s Corporate Plan, this plan will detail objectives in each area of our operation and will promote fairness and equality across the built environment sector. CIOB has the broadest membership of any professional body, including clients, which enables further influence throughout the supply chain. CIOB will gather the best practice currently available and support members and the wider industry in producing sustainable action plans that will readily fit within the multi-disciplinary environments they work within.