News

Gay group calls for diversity

7 July 2011

Gay rights group Stonewall is to step up efforts to encourage construction firms to sign up to its Diversity Champions programme, promoting lesbian, gay and bisexual equality in the workplace.

The move follows the publication of Stonewall’s Workplace Index of the top 100 gay-friendly employers, which again revealed a stark absence of construction companies, architectural practices or consultants. 

Chris Edwards, workplace associate with Stonewall, said he planned to meet a number of consultants and construction companies in the coming weeks.

“Construction as a whole is a few years behind other sectors, although some progress has been made in recent years on issues such as gender and race in the industry.

“Whether there is an appetite in the industry to tackle sexual orientation is difficult to say because no one is doing it at the moment. We’re looking for a few organisations to take that first step.”

Edwards, a former CABE employee, conceded the industry was dealing with other issues at the moment, not least falling work orders as the recession continues to bite, but insisted there was a “strong economic case” for signing up to the diversity programme.

He said: “We want to highlight the importance of taking sexual orientation in the workplace seriously. It will make your staff happier, more productive and more loyal but it also gives you stronger economic benefits as well.

“The Public Sector Equality Duty now legally requires public bodies to demonstrate that any procured contracts are awarded to organisations that are seriously tackling the equality strands, including sexual orientation. Working with us would give organisations an advantage in securing public sector contracts.”

Lend Lease, Kier and Construction Skills have already signed up to the programme. Edwards said he was keen to meet subcontractors and craft level workers to gauge their interest.

“Construction Skills is interested in bringing this into some training programmes, primarily management training, and the idea is it will start to trickle down from there,” said Edwards.

Comments

A little over 5% of our workforce are openly gay, marginally under the national average of 6%. Does this make us champions of diversity? I don't know. In actual fact we believe in equality, i.e. the best person to do the job irrespective of sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. What would be wrong in my opinion is to start imposing quotas. Do I support equality...yes. Do I support bias...most definately not.

Simon Oak, 8 July 2011

I take issue with this article, when does anyone walk up to someone on site and tell them in the introduction what their sexual orientation is. I also take issue with the statement that the construction industry is a few years behind other industries. The construction industry has been a champion with the likes of employing minorites and females in to the industry. Just because they are not sat at the top of the tree of management within years doesnt mean we are discriminating against them, it is because they are not yet right for the posts. This makes me angry this type of article, it is time to stop putting people in boxes and labelling them, our industry works as a team, regardless of colour, creed and sexual orientation

Shaun Brennan, 8 July 2011

Stonewall are right - we're stuck in the 1970s in the construction industry, and comments like these show why.

It's not about bias or quotas, it's about removing the barriers that help gay and lesbian people get into the industry and move up in it.

This report gives a convincing list of why it's difficult for minority groups in construction: http://legacy.london.gov.uk/mayor/equalities/docs/construction_industry_feb07.pdf

It says "Informal networks of work experience, recruitment and subcontracting act to privilege established partners and methods and exclude underrepresented target equality groups."

Who hasn't seen this happen on site?

Callum Lee, 12 July 2011

I'm inclined to agree with the above poster. The gap in current practice isn't about 'we need x number of LGBT employees', it's about fostering and encouraging an inclusive attitude towards LGBT people within the profession. If you come from a minority then, given pre-existing workplace networks, you can easily find yourself in a position that you have to work twice as hard to catch-up and move-up in your job. The issue is minorities don't have access to the top jobs and are held back by a 'glass ceiling'.

As Stonewall points out, this isn't just an 'fluffy' exercise in equality - there are quantifiable economic benefits too. This shouldn't be seen as an attack on existing approaches to improve inclusiveness in construction, but a springboard from which the sector can grow and take a lead in these sorts of issues... and have everyone better-off for it.

Matthew Shepherd, 12 July 2011

I am not sure how construction compares to other sectors because I have only worked in this field.

At Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects 10% of our workforce are LGBT - that statistic includes me. 45% of our staff are female (which I think is unusual for the architectural profession).

Whilst these statistics are interesting for those who are in to that sort of thing, they aren't something I give much thought to - they are simply the product of our decision to recruit solely on the basis of talent.

I agree with the first poster about not wanting to see any form of 'quota'. However as a result of the make up of our office I would hope that prospective employees feel more reassured about our credentials in terms of equality and diversity and that in turn may well encourage more applicants - which can only be to the benefit of the business?

As an illustration, I remember one interview candidate mentioned that she had seen photos of our office trip on the website and was encouraged to see how many female staff we employ, which was one (of a number of) reasons why she chose to apply to work for us.

Of course diversity in terms of sexual orientation doesn't come across in a photo posted on the web. However all sorts of indirect references - partners ringing up, or coming to the office parties for instance - hopefully reassure new and existing employees that they should have no hang-ups about issues around sexual orientation. Again, the reduced stress and anxiety brings benefits for both the individual and for the business.

Phillip Dawson, 12 July 2011

I have to wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment behind this. I don't believe it's about quotas or putting anyone in a box but more about the points Matthew and Phillip raise about inclusion and attitudes towards LGBT empolyees. As an out gay man having worked in the construction industry for 10 years (as a design manager for a major constractor) I have experienced a wide variety of different attitudes and opinions towards my sexuality with the most refreshing being complete inclusion and no issues from heterosexual colleagues, a lot of who have never met, let alone worked with, an openly gay person. There is still a lot of prejudice among the workforce on site but I have learnt to deal with this and ignore it and I feel this is the area that needs the focus.

Jonathan Houghton, 28 September 2011

Any followup on how this went?

Glen Arthur , 9 January 2015

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