1 July 2019
This month I’ve been mostly concentrating on equalities and diversity, the highlight being the Inspire Summit in Manchester. I was invited to participate on an expert panel to discuss the issues surrounding diversity in the workforce in the Construction Industry. The event, which focusses on diversity and inclusion in UK Construction, Engineering and Housing, is now in its third year and CABE is a key sponsor.
Joining me at the Inspire Summit were some very talented and knowledgeable people and it was my pleasure to share the stage with Wendy Ajuwon, Head of Marketing, British Board of Agrément; Caroline Key, G4C National Co-Chair CITB; Nike Folayan of Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers and Josie Rothera of Leeds Beckett University and Director at STEER Support & Mentoring CIC. I was also delighted to bump into another CABE Fellow, Chris Keast – chair of the CIOB Diversity Special Interest Group and Head of the Postgraduate Building Surveying Course at Nottingham Trent University. Like me he was speaking at the Summit on a panel of experts debating the subject of ‘Creating an Inclusive Culture’ and was one of the Judges for the Inspire Awards. These awards celebrate people, practices and projects that are leading the way, so I congratulate all of the winners and shortlisted projects and hope that others will be inspired by your example.
Those of you who have read my previous Building Engineer Journal contributions will know that I am CABE’s Diversity Champion and attending the Summit was an ideal opportunity to represent our membership and put forward the concept that it is not all about women and children first!
All of us who are involved in the recruitment and retention of competent and qualified staff, know that the skills shortage is a continuing crisis… not helped by our ongoing Brexit saga in the UK! Of course it is imperative that we ensure that we can tap into the broadest pool of talent and that does mean that we need to ensure the industry appeals to as many people as possible. A lot of work is being done to encourage women to consider construction and engineering as a potential career. Modern apprenticeships are a great way to draw in younger people especially when the higher education providers are looking to expand their range of relevant courses.
But what about hanging on to our more experienced people? Encouraging those who have left the industry to return and making a place for those who have transferrable skills, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or ability. Construction is the barometer of the economy, it has its peaks and troughs and, although the austere times of ‘Great Recession’ of 2008/09 seem long behind us, many excellent people have departed the industry in the past 10 years and have not come back.
This was a point that I felt was not being given much attention so, having been granted the privilege to offer up my opinions on the matter, I grasped the opportunity to mention this forgotten source of people with relevant skills and expertise to do jobs of relevance in construction and the built environment.
There are plenty of statistics that show that increasing workplace diversity is good for business. For instance, McKinsey & Co.’s study ‘Diversity Matters’ cites research finding that companies with ethnically and culturally diverse boards were 43% more likely to yield higher profits. Inclusive companies are also more likely to be innovative – a quality that will be of increasing importance with the rapid digitalisation of construction technology and the changing nature of built environment jobs.
Interestingly although black and minority ethnic groups (BMEs) make up 10% of the workforce, they are only represented in 6% of top management positions. Women still represent just 14% of the construction workforce, and again they are under-represented at senior positions. An annual LGBT+ survey by Construction News identified that there could be as many as 50,000 people working in construction who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other. Yet the 2017 survey results revealed large portions of this workforce feel uncomfortable about being open about their sexuality.
Construction is traditionally seen as a ‘macho’ industry and survey results show that homophobia is still an issue in construction, with inappropriate, insulting or offensive comments about gender or sexuality still commonplace. There is some evidence that suggests we have generally become a less tolerant society in the UK, with higher levels of reported hate crime and homophobia incidents since the Brexit vote. A few days before I wrote this article I was shocked to hear the news that two gay women were subject to verbal abused and suffered an unprovoked physical attack as they travelled on public transport.
We all need to work hard to create a more tolerant working environment with good policies and strong leadership. There is a BSI standard code of practice BS 76005 Valuing people through diversity and inclusion – code of practice for organizations which provides guidance and recommendations for organizations, whether they have ten employees or ten thousand, highlighting good practice on valuing their employees through diversity and inclusion and through building productive relationships with others – customers, clients or people within communities.
We need to encourage diversity of outlook, values, experience and behaviours in current and future building engineers. No one should be excluded from realising their potential. I am always fascinated to learn of other people’s stories about working in construction. If more of us are willing to open up and honestly share our own experiences, then we can paint a fuller picture of the world in which we work. Attracting, developing, mentoring, sponsoring, and retaining the next generations will be key to taking full advantage of the opportunity that diverse teams represent and it is in the construction industry’s best interests to embrace talent, wherever or whoever it is.
CABE is committed to raising standard of competency and ethics which is critical to creating a better industry and this in turn will lead to a more attractive industry in which to work and build a career. If this leads to more people choosing to enter the Building Engineering sector then we are heading in the right direction on the right path.