Diversity and inclusion – Walking the walk

Diversity, equality and inclusion might sound like lofty concepts requiring deep pockets or only relevant for large organisations with correspondingly-sized workforces.

Not so, since – quite apart from the onus on reputable businesses to demonstrate that fairness and equality of opportunity lie at the core of their enterprise – embracing diversity and inclusion makes sound business sense. 

To borrow from the trailblazing female black American entrepreneur and venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton, who founded Backstage Capital investment fund while homeless:

This ‘good for business’ argument is backed up by leading American management consultancy McKinsey, which states unequivocally:

New research makes it increasingly clear that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.

And you might reasonably expect diversity and inclusion to chime with Scottish values, for a nation that prides itself on its open culture traditionally rooted in social justice.

Moreover, influential business organisations including CBI Scotland (Confederation of Business Industry Scotland) and Scotland Food & Drink (the national advocacy association for Scottish farming, fishing, food and drink) are on record, reaffirming that Scotland’s continuing economic prosperity depends on net inward immigration. In short, there aren’t enough stereotypical ‘native born’ Scots to meet the nation’s labour needs.

Within our own construction industry, women, BAME (black and ethnic minorities), disabled workers and LGBTQIAP+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (and in some cases, ‘questioning’, intersex, asexual) workers are chronically underrepresented.

Statistics range from 12%-20% of the construction workforce as female, around 10%-12% drawn from BAME backgrounds, less than 1% declaring a disability, and just over 1% identifying as LGBTQIAP+ compared with a construction workforce that has been traditionally 60% white and male. And not enough young people are entering the industry – figures of less than 10% of construction workers under 25 years of age are regularly quoted. Clearly, with talent shortages a not infrequent challenge, we need to cast the net wider.

For now, let’s focus on a few practical, low-cost measures which many organisations can put to work pretty well immediately.

Recruitment

When advertising for a position, have candidates submit their CVs ‘blind’ – that is, have them remove their name, age, and all personal details. That way you can demonstrate, in the face of any potential discrimination challenges, that you have consistently selected the best candidate for the job.

Should the worst happen, and you find yourself facing a discrimination challenge, ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides guidance on discrimination and the law, as well as different types of unfair treatment, and equal pay.

Flexible working

The UK has over two million single parent families – around 25% of all households, with 90% of these led by mothers and 10% by fathers, and all in need of support. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that many businesses can continue to operate while employees work from home.

Can your organisation go one step further and operate more flexible working hours and practices, perhaps even implementing a four-day-week?

At Esteem Training, we’ve been running a four-week week since mid-2020, and it has proved popular with both staff and clients. Productivity has not been affected, rather the reverse. Our entire team advises that they feel less stressed, more refreshed and energised, and better equipped to problem solve.

Lead from the front

Do you work for a large organisation that purchases large volumes of materials on an ongoing basis? Do those procurement specifications require bidders and existing sub-contractors to meet diversity and inclusion targets to remain approved suppliers?

There’s a strong argument that large organisations carry a correspondingly weighty responsibility to set the example of ethical business and fair recruitment practices, and cascading this same approach down through their supply chain demonstrates strong leadership. In almost every case, it’s vital to ensure that the ‘top brass’ are on board as champions otherwise the best of intentions are unlikely to translate into practical initiatives driving change. And if you are the top brass, why not strive to be an inspiring role model leading from the front.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission publishes a helpful guide that’s worth a read.

Employment policies and terms and conditions of employment 

Organisations including ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provide template diversity and inclusion policies that you can consider incorporating into your contracts of employment and accompanying terms and conditions.

For sub-contactors, embracing diversity and inclusion (D & I) within the recruitment pipeline can go a long way towards meeting the D & I targets increasingly appearing in procurement documents issued by public and private sector enterprises.

Engineering and construction industry toolkits

If this all feels like another pressure in already busy lives, help is at hand.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report – ‘Equality and diversity: good practice for the construction sector’ – contains sections on identifying challenges and setting goals to address these.

In addition, professional organisations including the CECA (Civil Engineering Contractors Association) have created resources such as their ‘Fairness, Inclusion and Respect’ programme (FIR) of workshops for the construction industry. Part-funded by the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) and run in autumn 2019, these workshops offered advice on best practice when working with major contractors and clients.

‘Health check’ tools

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Management), while a member organisation for the human resources profession, nevertheless has an online archive of articles on D & I best practice.

Their website hosts a simple, online ‘Health Check’ featuring seven questions to help you determine where you sit on the scale of compliance with diversity and inclusion issues as well as next steps to address any shortcomings.

Training and role models

Like it or not, we almost all suffer from unconscious bias which training can help to address. We ‘steemies’ are passionate about catalysing a thirst for learning among construction professionals, and we support taking a long hard look at whatever built-in filters might be affecting our judgements and choices.

For starters, have you ever asked colleagues or staff about potential ways they can suggest to improve the working environment, and whether they feel they can share their ideas in a frank and open way?

This work needn’t involve expensive training programmes, particularly during these stretched coronavirus-restricted times, though do investigate all options should budgets allow.

Respected training organisations such as the Institute of Leadership and Management provide a free unconscious bias worksheet that you can download and complete with your teams.

Harvard University’s Project Implicit involves a number of online quizzes and work modules designed to probe your ‘social attitudes’ towards race, gender, sexual orientation and other topics.

Diversity and inclusion are core values embedded within our business as a Disability Committed employer. Our team has therefore taken part in specialised training in addressing inequality in education, diversity or learning styles, accelerated learning, additional support needs awareness, understanding invisible needs, personalising our Learning Assistant for different learners, and supply chain sustainability

Lots to think about, but diversity and inclusion isn’t going away. On the contrary, it is set to feature more and more in business practice moving forward, and rightly so. Hopefully, this article provides some food for thought as well as some resources to draw on should you be at the very start of what, we promise, can prove a rewarding and insightful journey. We’re all in this together, so do keep us posted regarding your journey!