Acceptance is the First Step to Recovery


Written by:

Antonia John, Encon Construction &
Danielle Aberg, The CSR Co


No, this is not an article about alcoholism, but one about diversity and inclusion within the construction industry.

You have probably heard many a story about projects focused on engaging women into construction, so much so that there is sometimes a failure to acknowledge that diversification of the workforce is still a stark problem.

Pre Covid-19 the construction industry employed around 302,000 women in the UK. This is equivalent to 12% of the construction workforce.

But what if we were to tell you that despite all the noise, this figure has not changed in 12 years?  Furthermore, what if we told you that the percentage of individuals from ethnic minorities working in construction here in Wales, accounts for just 0.7% of the Welsh workforce. And one final statistic for you, the 20% Gender Pay Gap (GPG) – although if you analyse this further you will realise that the true gender pay gap in the industry is far higher, given that 96% of the 180,000 construction firms in the UK are thought to have less that 8 employees, therefore do not report.

I am sure you have heard of the Iceberg theory, where the top of the iceberg, the bit we can see is only a tiny part of a bigger picture. The observable behaviours, like the words we use, how we act and the way we communicate with others.  But underneath all that, there is the bits we can’t see. Below that waterline are the Core Values of a culture, group, or organisation. These are the complex ideas and deeply held preferences and priorities known as attitudes and values.  Presenteeism = productivity, Women not being ‘Strong’ enough, Perception that flexibility = flakiness, a lack of commitment. These are the ideas & notions we need to address and change if we are to progress and have a noticeable and sustainable impact on diversification.

So, we must begin with acceptance, with the acknowledgement that diversification isn’t simply about posting a job that says, ‘we welcome applications from BAME applicants’ and then suggest that ‘it’s not our fault they didn’t apply for the job’. Or say we want to encourage more women into trades whilst simultaneously asking them to work from 7am – 5.30pm an hour away from home, when breakfast club at school doesn’t start until 8.10am, then blaming lack of flexibility on a client’s need to complete ‘on time and on budget’.

  • We need to consider how we recruit, the language we use, where we advertise. We need to start from where these under-represented groups are at, not where we want them to be.
  • We need to ensure that individuals from these groups can retrain within our industry with a fair wage, as afterall what adult in their right mind can afford to sustain a household on a 1st year apprentice wage of £3.90 per hour?
  • We need to educate our workforce on culture, openly and purposefully challenging views on cultural stereotypes.
  • We need to raise the aspirations of our youngsters by shining the light on people who look like them and creating visible role models
  • We need to encourage coaching and mentoring throughout all levels of an organisation, not just for new entrants and senior leaders.
  • We need to encourage & normalise shared parental leave and move away from presenteeism and a culture of mistrust, to an agile approach that supports the business bottom line, yet delivers a happier more productive workforce.
  • We need to open up conversations about disability, as being able bodied is not a pre-requisite for all types of work in the industry.
  • We need to actively recruit underrepresented groups to boards and executive roles, and not see it as a token or statistical activity, but rather see the added value the different experience of these groups brings.
  • We need to work together, collaborate to innovate. We need to think creatively to solve our problems and we need to be 100% committed.

And finally, we need to start now, we must lead from the front and show that equality, diversity, and inclusion are not ‘nice to haves’ when times are good, but rather an essential part of #buildingbackbetter