Inclusion, Diversity, and Mental Health in Construction
The Black Lives Matter movement, mass protests police violence in the United States and Europe, attacks on monuments of the colonial era – the problems of inequality are yet again being brought into the spotlight; however, it is not just a PR announcement, it is a real problem that is reaping havoc for millions in the world, including the world of construction.
A 2018 study conducted by recruitment analytics company HAYS revealed that 78% of BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) people working in the construction sector had experienced career restriction due to their race and other democratic factors such as sexuality and age. And according to the ONS (Office of National Statistics), only 7.4% of BAME people account for the total work women-only make up 12.5%. These statistics are staggering, which is why Construction Helpline teamed up with the industry’s leading figures and advocates including Andrew Triggs Hodge, Anjali Pindoria, Balo Abisogun, Clive Holland, Christina Demetriou, and Paul Cottam to discuss the issues surrounding inclusion, diversity, and mental health.
What is Diversity and Inclusion?
“Total inclusivity is the most important feat that we could achieve in the construction industry” – Clive Holland (Host of Fix Radio). In a corporate context, diversity & inclusion is the concept of incorporating and including a wide variety of people into the business process. Overall, this concept aims to make business as effective as possible while creating an environment where every individual is nurtured, uplifted, and given the opportunity to have a say and make a difference in their role. Andrew Triggs OBE, who is a 3x Olympic Gold Medallist and advocate for youth inequality states that it is vital that we create opportunities for people to find themselves and what they can excel at and be proud of, as this will foster a sense of purpose and motivation in their lives. Clive Holland, host of Fix Radio follows reiterates this sentiment by saying that total inclusivity is the most important feat that could be achieved in the construction industry.
“Change needs to happen now” – Umer Mansoor (CEO of Construction Helpline)
The cultural and ethnic diversity of companies can dramatically improve the working dynamic, creativity, and ability to deal with conflict. That is because the experience of living in diverse cultures allows people to use innovative solutions to various challenges and bring to the table an arsenal of unique skills and ideas. To prevent conflicts and break down barriers, companies need to reach out and regularly conduct training to combat unconscious prejudices. The key idea of these programs is to be open-minded about any person with whom the employee communicates and to maintain a high standard of business communication.
The construction industry needs to figure out whether the right people are making the right decisions and whether those decisions are made in an inclusive way that are generating the right outcomes. But more importantly, Balo Abisogun from DiverseCity Surveyors highlights the structure of the industry needs to fit the purpose moving forward, particularly after the pandemic. We mentioned earlier that only 7.4% of BAME people account for the construction industry, however, only 1.4% account for the total number of surveyors. This may seem like a daunting statistic, however, Balo sees this as the enormous scale of opportunity that is presented to us. “There is huge scope for real tangible structural change in construction”, and “The industry needs to take a good look at itself now.”
What impact does diversity & inclusion have on businesses?
Being skilled is not enough, to place yourself in a suitable position you need specific social characters and a network of people that will help guide in the right direction. In 2020, the McKinsey consultancy conducted a study comparing the financial performance of corporations using D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) and those still reluctant to implement the new standards. The results of the study show that the integration of D&I principles is directly related to an increase in profits of 25–35%. These statistics clearly indicate that there is a financial power in diversity and from the moment this strategy begins to work, a new corporate culture is formed in the company that is based on equality and acceptance of the other person’s characteristics.
How to raise the profile of BAME workers?
The current statistics that represent ethnic minority people is unbelievable, however, as panelist Anjali Pindoria from Avi Contracts states that the issue surrounding inclusion is not necessarily about raising the profiles of ethnic minorities, its more about understanding what the issues are – and then working together to make a real change. To achieve complete inclusiveness, we need to bring everyone together into the conversation. The biggest factor for the lack of inclusion is the way that policies and communication surrounding D&I is structured. Too often the top of the corporate hierarchy announces plans to promote diversity and inclusion to then fall short of following it through into reality. We must ask ourselves about the real representation that is happening at the bottom, e.g., supply chains, merchants, everyone on site – these are the places where policies on diversity, inclusion, and mental health need to be materialised.
“We, as an industry, need to help the 90% rather than looking all polished at the 10%” – Anjali Pindoria
The Inclusion of Men and Women
In western culture prejudice is still alive and well, and many companies still believe that men are better suited to work in business, especially in leadership positions. However, the Harvard Business Review has published a case study that shows that the inclusion of men and women in the construction industry increases the overall IQ of the team. This happens due to the emergence of an opportunity to propose and discuss ideas that are relevant to both sexes. This creates a “creative space” in which a product or service is born that is equally interesting to both men and women. In short, diversity and the inclusion of all sexes is the recipe for success in not only general business sectors but in construction as well.
Mental Health at work: How to Break the Stigma
Employers and colleagues must work closely together to face issues surrounding mental health, and not just “run” from them. The psychological health of employees is not only a company’s biggest resource, but it is also the foundation to which a company can synergise, grow, and overtake its competitors. Awareness of mental health is vital in the construction industry, and issues concerning diversity and inclusion fit into this like bread and butter.
Sexism in the Workplace: How it manifests itself
Discrimination comes in many ways – direct and indirect, legal, and informal. Perhaps one of the most serious forms of discrimination is the discrimination of your gender. The Council of Europe explains that different measures are needed to combat sexism. To eliminate gender stereotypes, new values need to be explained and communicated though all levels of work, but deliberate sexist actions require changes in law – to provide legal protection.
Christina Demetriou, who works as a tipper driver in the UK, shared with us her real-life experience of working in the construction industry and facing sexism. In our panel she highlighted the fact that men’s unconsidered commentary and banter had almost pushed her to make a career change, saying “People just don’t know the limits sometimes”. People like Christina are breaking the stigma of male-predominant roles and raising awareness for women who have been negatively impacted by sexism.
It is Time to Make a Change in Construction
Our panelist Balo Abisogun sends a clear message to the current state of diversity: “on most strands, we move forward, but on ethnicity, we move forward in reverse gear.” This sentiment speaks volumes to the world of construction. Our current net position is just not good enough, and it will remain like that if we do not put forward tangible change.
A recurring theme that all our panelists expressed in our webinar was the importance of collective strength, and the ability to create an environment that will inspire all people to come together, share their experience and raise awareness of issues that are being faced by millions of people. Only by opening this conversation can we deliver effective action, and this exactly what this panel intended to do.
We must be strong, we must be open-minded, we must embrace the individuality of everyone and figure out dynamic ways of bettering construction. Complacency must be stopped at all costs. Companies and people across all construction sectors must work closely together to embrace diversity and help people become empowered, motivated, and passionate individuals.
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