Cracks remain in construction’s approach to diversity and inclusion

21 May 2021

As the United Nations champions “cultural diversity for dialogue and development” today, the need for such a drive is being dramatically underlined by the continued cross-border attacks in Israel and Gaza.

Israeli-Palestinian tensions are complex but not exceptional in regards to having a cultural dimension at their core. Three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts share the same catalyst and the UN sees bridging the gap between global and regional cultures as being “urgent and necessary” for peace, stability and development.

Such diversity and inclusion chasms – which encompass everything from race, gender, sexuality, disability and social class – also need to be closed much closer to home.

Take, for example, the disparity in socio-economic equality to be found within the UK’s corridors of power. A recent report by the Social Mobility Commission has revealed that more of Whitehall’s current crop of civil servants are privately educated than was the case in the 1960s.

Navigating the Labyrinth, which was commissioned by the government, highlighted how only a quarter of those from poorer backgrounds held senior posts.

The report identified a “velvet drainpipe” of recruitment and preference for polish over performance that is – hopefully – at odds with the thinking of the majority of private sector employers.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics relating to the gender pay gap, however, suggest there is still much work to be done in respect of diversity and inclusion.

The partners at CampbellReith are proud to boast that there is no salary divide between its 150 male and female staff and – with almost half of their workforce female and more than one quarter of its team from ethnic and minority backgrounds, which is above the 13% UK construction average (as at 2019 according to the CITB) – to be actively challenging past prejudices and practices.

Keen to gauge opinion on the current state of play within the construction sector as a whole and to further broaden its own outlook, the multidisciplinary engineering practice courted the views of its employees and industry colleagues on diversity and inclusion via a LinkedIn survey.

The responses received to a series of qualitative and quantitative questions were aptly diverse and demonstrate the continued need for dialogue and discussion.

While acknowledging modern workplaces have taken giant strides forward, the majority of contributors believed there is more still to be done and stated that the diversity and inclusion stance of their current and future employer was important to them as individuals.

Ideas to expedite equality were also shared, with a general consensus that efforts to embrace diversity and inclusion should come from the top of organisations. It was felt policy changes, such as parental leave being granted to same sex parents, improved maternity pay and ensuring accessibility for wheelchair users, should already be in the minds of senior staff and that talk needs to translate into action.

Rather than being a one-off, tick box exercise, one respondent called for companies to adopt more rigorous diversity training – incorporating it into annual professional development programmes and targets.

Another suggested that construction firms should adopt the growing trend of selecting applicants from nameless CVs to mitigate any conscious, or subconscious, shortlisting of job candidates.

Several others stated that any lack of progress was a shared shortfall and that a greater need for accountability and willingness to call out colleagues for inappropriate behaviour or use of language was needed to implement a lasting shift in culture.

The benefits to a business of doing so were clear to those who took part in the study.

Aside from enhancing recruitment and retention and advancement being based on the “right person for the right job regardless of background”, diversity – it was argued – prevents a company from being a closed echo chamber and devoid of any innovative thinking.