UK Construction Week diversity roundtable

Challenging the lack of diversity in UK construction

  • 28 Apr 2016

A recent roundtable, hosted by UK Construction Week, has discovered that the construction industry lacks the initiative required to address inequality, despite calls for a more diverse workforce.

Comprised of campaigners for greater diversity in construction, the panel was brought together to form the UK Construction Week Diversity Advisory Group. At the roundtable event, the panel addressed the issues that the industry faces in bridging the diversity gap, demonstrating a commitment to encouraging an industry-wide cultural shift.

The lessons learned from the panel will outline the agenda for UK Construction Week in October. The event will aim to ensure that all construction professionals are equipped to embrace diversity, and turn challenges into constructive opportunities.

As the roundtable progressed, two schools of thought emerged: whilst half of the attendees advocated tackling issues at their roots, many believed that dealing with leadership from the top would be more effective.

The discussion focused on the difficulties that we face in attracting young people – particularly females and ethnic minorities – into the construction industry.

Tackling construction inequality at grassroots

UK Construction Week diversity roundtableThe CEO of Skills4Stem, Sarah Davis, argued that children should be introduced to the idea of a career in construction at the age of five or six, when they first begin to form an opinion on what they want to be when they grow up.

Parents should also be educated about the industry: as it stands, few mothers and fathers are willing to encourage their children to aspire to a career in construction.

Teachers at the roundtable expressed a similar opinion. The panel’s chair, CIOB‘s Deputy Chief Executive, Bridget Bartlett, named poor careers guidance as another problematic factor. She believes that the industry needs to do more to educate and inspire children and young people about a career in construction.

Fragmentation was identified as one of the biggest problems. There are around 50 different professional bodies in the industry, which all aim to challenge inequality and achieve the same thing in a slightly different ways. They are cancelling each other out and are, ultimately, ineffective.

Stronger leadership on top

Despite the strength of these arguments, many roundtable attendees, such as ACE’s CEO, Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, felt that making an effort at grassroots level is ineffectual: the industry needs stronger leadership and commitment from the top.

The board should demonstrate on-going progression, in terms of the level of women, ethnic minorities, disabled and gay people represented at all levels.  This should filter across into the procurement process, and be a contractual demand of the industry’s supply chain.

Bridget Bartlett argued that having a more balanced representation at board level is also a crucial part of this.

Finally, the panel argued that companies should place an emphasis on sponsors and mentors, and champion rising stars as role models, rather than people who have already made it to the top.

Diversity roundtable conclusions

The discussion highlighted the need for the industry to unite, and start tackling the issue of diversity together. Despite existing initiatives and the presence of leading thinkers, the battle for diversity still has a long way to go.

UK Construction Week will provide a platform for organisations to come together and strengthen the fragmented approach to balancing inequality.

The event will also encourage business leaders to commit to achieving minimum requirements and demonstrating on-going progression towards diversity.

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