Over the last decade, diversity has cemented its place in boardroom discussions across every industry.
Companies have realised the benefits of having a diverse workforce, how it leads to broader knowledge and experiences across an organisation and, therefore, culminates in better decision making.
The property and construction sector, however, has largely struggled to keep up with other industries in improving its diversity.
According to the latest ONS workforce statistics, only 15 per cent of the sector’s workforce are female. Meanwhile the important and ongoing conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement have brought fresh perspective to the issues the construction industry has around attracting talent from ethnic minority backgrounds.
According to research from Business in the Community, just 3.4 per cent of construction managers in the UK are from ethnic minorities.
There have been some efforts from the top to make a change. The Construction Industry Council has a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Panel, while Building Equality, the alliance of construction companies driving LGBT+ inclusion, has gained momentum with more than 40 contractors now involved. But if we’re to really tackle this issue head on as an industry, change cannot be driven solely from the top.
For a workplace to be truly diverse, company-wide changes are required, and they need to be authentic. A workplace won’t become inclusive overnight because a senior leadership team has implemented a new diversity measure – entire cultures need to change. Teams ‘on the ground’ need to feel part of the diversity movement and must embrace the shift their company is taking.
Encouraging employee-backed initiatives is a great way of enacting this behaviour change. Creating an environment where our employees feel comfortable to speak up and influence decisions on diversity can be the difference between deep-rooting it within company culture, or treating it as a tick-box exercise.
Connecting people of all backgrounds, levels and roles to build communities within the workplace is vital to making staff feel safe and confident to bring their true selves to work. Employee network groups can help foster this and need to be used across the sector to allow this visibility of people of different backgrounds, improving engagement and helping develop diversity strategies.
Our own employee network group, Embrace, has led to us introducing a host of diversity initiatives – from meaningful flexible working policies to help parents, to ensuring we use gender-neutral language in our recruitment processes. It also led to one of Embrace’s members setting up a dedicated LGBT+ network.
Embrace consists of eight core members and six advocates, meaning we have a network representative from all 14 of our offices. The core members have regular meetings to share suggestions and insights, while our advocates are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the business, ensuring the group reflects the broader culture of the organisation. We also have an open email address for people to share their thoughts and suggestions, as well as a chat room on our intranet.
Of course, like most strategies, one size does not fit all. A sector-wide, joined-up approach would help us understand lessons learned and mistakes made, so that we can all support a wider cultural shift of the property and construction sector. While there are many networks already set up for large organisations to share their knowledge, we should also open these up to the small and medium-sized organisations operating in our industry – many of which are the public face of the industry.
For a network to be impartial, groups need to be membership organisations whereby companies participate, rather than lead. By holding regular meetings that are accessible to everyone, we can really get under the skin of what’s holding our industry back and tackle these issues head-on.
By providing platforms like these where we can all share our experiences and new successful ways of working with everyone across our sector, we’ll overcome our diversity woes quicker.
Of course, changes will not happen overnight.
I doubt the next ONS workforce statistics will show a 50:50 split in male and female workers in our industry. And sadly, it’s unlikely that the proportion of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in construction will be representative of the wider UK population in 12 months’ time.
However, if we take the right steps to enforce change, the sector can build quickly on the progress starting to be made.
Source – Construction News