2020 has been a tumultuous year for many reasons. As well as the pandemic, there has been significant focus on the issues of racism and inequality in society today as a result of events across the globe, particularly in the US. For many organisations including those in the construction sector, this has led to a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
The construction industry has long been accused of lagging behind other industries in achieving a balanced workforce, even within traditionally ‘male-dominated’ sectors. In 2011, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report laying out a Framework for Action which was developed to show how equality and diversity could be advanced in the construction sector.
However, since the report was published, statistics suggest that little progress has been made. Figures published by the GMB in October 2019 show that the construction industry’s workforce is just 12.5% female and only 5.4% BAME*. This represents just a 1.7% increase in the number of women employed in construction since 2011. The GMB suggests that if progress continues at this rate, it will take 200 years to achieve gender equality within the construction industry.
Given that the population of the UK is around 50% female and the last census records 13% of people identifying as BAME, the disparities in representation amongst the construction industry are significant.
Whilst the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2011 report focussed on the negatives of not embracing diversity (increased staff turnover, risk of litigation, absenteeism) it failed to highlight the direct benefits for increasing diversity. A 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group showed that organisations with diverse leadership teams reported 19% higher revenue linked to innovation than organisations with below-average diversity scores.
The construction sector has long faced a struggle to recruit the numbers of people into the industry who consider it a long-term career, an issue likely to be compounded by the UK’s exit from the European Union in January. Add this to the benefits of a more diverse workforce and it is clear that the industry has nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing diversity and inclusion.
The Personal Perspective – Sabrina Mohamed, Key Account Director, Soben
Like a lot of individuals up and down the country, I was glad to wave goodbye to my daily 45-minute commute each way to and from the city, although I have missed having lunch with my colleagues and the office banter on the sales floor. Unlike many other people however, I was not forced to work from home because of a global pandemic, I chose to just over a year ago when I took my current position at Soben. It did take some initial adjustment, but as the mother of two girls under five, this role has offered me a chance to progress my career without feeling as though I have to compromise being a part of my daughters’ lives.
Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace is something that has been under the spotlight in the last few years, and when we look at statistics it becomes very easy to be pessimistic. It is clear that as a society we still have a long way to go however, we do sometimes also need to recognise that a lot of businesses are working hard to overcome those statistics and drive change. We are starting to have those difficult conversations and that is the first step to a better future.
I can only speak from my own personal experience, but I have been fortunate enough to have worked for employers who have bent over backwards to accommodate me as a young mother. At my last place of work, I was offered opportunities to work from home when required and to start a little later to drop my daughter at my mum’s. The understanding shown by my managers (all of whom were male and one who didn’t have children of his own yet) really helped me in a time where I felt stuck between two worlds and constantly on a back foot. There were times I felt as though I wasn’t quite good enough at my job, unable to put in the extra hours others did and at the same time not as good as all of the stay at home mums. I missed a lot of firsts including my daughter’s first steps which were instead witnessed and celebrated by my mum. I was sent a video which I watched during a lunch break.
Being a working parent is difficult. I remember waking up extremely early to prepare my then two-year-old for her daily drop off at my mums. This period in my life is a blur of early morning tantrums coupled with nausea from my morning sickness, running down the steps of Palmers Green Railway station and squashing onto packed trains. I would walk through the office doors every morning feeling exhausted and as though I had already overcome so many hurdles just to arrive on time. Having said this, I always found my employers empathetic and accommodating. My workplaces have always been meritocratic recognising me for my achievements in work. I was never made to feel as though my being Black, a Muslim, a woman, or a mother hindered my access to progression or promotion.
Yes, Britain still has a very long way to go before we reach equality, and for every person who has a success story there will be many others who have experienced microaggressions and racism in the workplace. But the country is talking about diversity and it has started the long journey towards change, so let’s take a step back and celebrate how far we have come whilst looking at ways to improve further and fully illuminate workplace biases.
* This term stands for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic, although it should be noted that it is not necessarily accepted by those groups it is meant to represent