Well, if you are one of those white middle-aged men who has a leadership position, it’s time to take a look at yourself and those around you. No, really, do it.
“In no way does the profile of where I work reflect society at large.” This is just one of many frank responses to our diversity and inclusion survey and it pretty much sums how construction professionals feel about the industry they work in. Of course, when we launched the survey, conducted by recruiter Hays, we expected the results to reflect construction’s lack of diversity – after all it is an industry that is known for being dominated by white middle-aged men (just 4% of workers are from a BAME background, while women make up 13%). But still the implications of the data we’ve analysed make for shocking reading.
For some years now we have regularly surveyed the industry to report on the differences between the perceptions of men and women. This work has highlighted the barriers women feel are put in their way – either consciously or unconsciously – as well as a growing anger over issues such as harassment in the workplace and the gender pay gap.
Every day sexism is still a problem and women with children continue to fall behind their male colleagues when climbing the career ladder. The scarcity of women in senior roles is the proof.
Our research shows that diversity and inclusion needs to come from the very top of an organisation – it has to be lived and breathed by the people who set the strategy and drive the business
That’s not to say that nothing is changing; many construction companies are trying to address the needs of female employees, although as the latest gender pay gap results indicate the status quo is hard to shift and we are yet to see huge results.
At the same time, other under-represented groups are pointing out that discrimination is not limited to someone’s sex. Construction’s lack of diversity is comprehensive - cutting across age, race, sexual orientation and disability – hence our much wider focus in this year’s research. So what stands out from the findings?
Out of more than 1,000 respondents there are two clear groups of people who feel themselves to be at more of a disadvantage working in construction: black people and people with disabilities. For example, when asked if they feel secure in their jobs, 63% of disabled people and 58% of black people said no – this compares with 41% for both white respondents and able-bodied ones.
The figures were even more disturbing when black people were asked if there had been an occasion where they felt their chance of getting a job had been lowered because of their ethnicity: 76% said there had, more than double the percentage for white people. Sixty-two percent of those with disabilities said they felt their chance of being accepted for a job had been lowered – that figure drops to 37% for the able-bodied.
And the data should ring alarm bells for industry leaders for another reason too – it is the leaders themselves who are widely seen as being the big blocker to creating a level playing field. Sixty percent of all respondents feel their leaders have a bias to people who look, think or act like them, while just over a quarter feel their organisation actively develops under-represented groups into leadership roles and just over a third trust leaders to deliver greater diversity. This is a devastating assessment of the industry’s ability and indeed willingness to affect change.
At worst, the diversity and inclusion agenda can be dismissed as “political correctness” by those who feel threatened. There are probably a minority of line managers who think in this way, but their impact can have a devastating effect on the careers of others, as evidenced by the testimony of many of our respondents.
More common is when diversity measures are simply box-ticking exercises, tagged on by well-meaning HR departments to an ill-thought-through recruitment and retention programme that has been delegated down to managers who have received inadequate training. No wonder people feel so despondent.
Our research shows that diversity and inclusion needs to come from the very top of an organisation if it is to bring everyone along – it has to be lived and breathed by the people who set the strategy and drive the business. Of course, there is a moral argument for having a diverse workforce – it can’t be right that an individual’s career can be hobbled by a manager’s prejudices – but there is also a powerful business case. There are countless reports pointing to the benefits a company gains from diversity among its workers in terms of its ability to attract talent, innovate, gain customer insights and – for those with their eye on the bottom line – to bring in a profit.
So what’s the takeaway from all of this? Well, if you are one of those white middle-aged men who has a leadership position, it’s time to take a look at yourself and those around you. No, really, do it. Look at the people you have on your board and the next level down of senior managers and ask yourself, do the people I surround myself with mostly look, act and think like me? If the answer is yes, then you are part of the problem.
Chloë McCulloch, editor, Building