Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) has long been a topic that has dogged the construction industry. There’s no golden bullet for fixing decades of limited progress, but the steps being made in the industry at the moment are nothing but encouraging, according to executive chairman of Pagabo, Gerard Toplass.
Anyone that works in property and construction will tell you that there is not enough diversity in the industry, despite great progress being made over the last decade in particular. Just one in eight people who work in the industry are female, while a 2018 report on diversity showed that just 5.4 per cent of workers in the sector are BAME.
As Amos Simbo, founder of the BPIC Network, said on the latest episode of Pagabo’s Building Blocks podcast, the fact that the topic of equality, diversity and inclusion – or lack thereof – is even being discussed shows how things have progressed, and how seriously it is now being taken in the industry.
But just discussing it is no longer enough. Unfortunately, there are decades of poor practice on this front that need to be undone, and it’s no easy task.
The experiences of Faithful+Gould’s Ella Sanders – who was actively discouraged from a career in construction while at school – illustrate that there’s still a way to go to mitigate the damage that has been done in the past, which is the key contributory factor behind the ugly statistics.
It’s not something that is going to be done overnight, but the slow and steady progress being made currently is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Especially given the industry’s historically poor performance around ED&I, it’s also important that we benchmark ourselves against other industries, see how we stack up and take learnings from their approaches where appropriate.
Jenny Hinde – who, as executive director of The Clear Company works in ED&I across several industries, including construction – told us on the podcast that there is a real push from people working within the industry to get things right on the ED&I front, but this is largely coming from the bigger organisations.
These companies are looking to take the lead and not be driven by their clients on embracing ED&I. However, this initiative doesn’t yet seem to be permeating down to SME level to the same extent and getting this to happen is an important stage on the journey.
As Dara Jafari, associate director and ED&I lead at Faithful+Gould pointed out on the podcast, there is an important distinction to make between the professional side of the industry and the site work side. While both face similar challenges in terms of ED&I – and there has been a genuinely positive shift towards embracing the importance of a diverse workforce – the approach to tackling this can’t be one-size-fits-all.
It’s important not to forget the “inclusion” element of ED&I. Jenny touched on the use of divisive language – “blue collar” and “white collar” being a prime example – and even the difference between the terms of employment for on and off-site workers as key indicators of the lack inclusivity. The question – as she put it – doesn’t just need to be “how diverse are we?”, but “how diverse and inclusive are we?”.
The good news is that the shift is definitely happening. Those on the podcast that dealt with public sector clients all agreed that they had seen greater focus on ED&I in bid documents, and importantly that shift had progressed from questions about simple compliance to ones asking more about how it is being delivered in practice. Most impressively, there also seems to be a desire from those clients to learn more about that delivery, and how they can replicate it within their own structures.
Acting upon this self-awareness is absolutely critical to ensuring we handle these challenge in 2021 and beyond.
As Dara pointed out, it’s one thing for a board of directors to identify that they potentially have improvements to make where it comes to ED&I, but it’s quite another for them to recognise that – for that very reason – they themselves may not be best placed to solve the problem.
It’s a long battle, and not one that is going to be won overnight. However, the positive steps being taken across the industry show us that we are moving in the right direction.