Leader: Diverse teams deliver - that's the message

12 July 2015

Just how fast are we improving on diversity and inclusion? Certainly, there’s evidence of forward progress. At Construction Manager we see it directly in the way we cover stories. Compared to just five years ago, it’s far more likely that the spokespeople and business leaders put forward to comment on issues will be women.

In the May edition, we sought out site-based female project managers and felt confident we would find them. And at the industry conferences, awards and events we attend, there are clearly more women, and more black and Asian people. 

The statistics aren’t great, but do include a few positive signs. For instance, the ONS Labour Force Survey figures suggest that the new jobs created in the industry in the past two years of recovery have gone disproportionately to women. The new jobs could be in support roles rather than delivery, such as marketing or admin, but it may also suggest more female graduates or trainee entrants.

The UK Contractors Group also collates diversity statistics from its members, with the next annual update being compiled as Construction Manager went to press. However, we understand that the statistics are moving in the right direction. 

But the industry isn’t made up of UKCG members, or the kind of organisation that sends Construction Manager press releases: it consists of regional contractors, SME builders, family-owned businesses where ideas and processes, such as recruiting only from groups you are familiar with, are deeply entrenched.

It’s this under-resourced and risk-averse aspect of the industry that is going to make it extremely hard to raise the representation of women and people from BME backgrounds to levels consistent with other industries – and our clients.

So how do we draw in more employers to the diversity agenda? One project from the CITB is to produce an integrated “toolkit”, so that construction employers hoping to recruit from a more diverse pool of people can use consistent messaging, case studies and graphics, taking best practice out of its “pockets” and normalising it across the industry.

There are also new standards for employers that will help concentrate minds on the issue, and could become a criterion for client decision-making in the future. The CITB is to relaunch its Be Fair standard next year, and the RICS Quality Mark also is hoping for wide take-up.

But the overall message from interviewees in this month’s feature is that diversity “initiatives” cannot be viewed as standalones: to target a minority group with direct or indirect support risks reinforcing the divisions you were trying to bridge in the first place.

Instead, diversity is a business performance issue: by creating a better mix of genders, races and backgrounds in their teams, employers are creating a healthier dynamic that’s more receptive to new ideas, and more welcoming to the incoming Generation Y. That’s the business case message, and it needs to be broadcast loud and clear. 

Elaine Knutt, editor

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