Our kids will look back and ask: Why did diversity take so long?

 · Posted in News

Having worked in construction for more than two decades, this year saw a milestone in my career as I recently received – for the first time ever – a truly diverse and representative set of job applications for a vacancy that was advertised in my team.

The candidate choice on this occasion, offered an even balance of male-female applicants whilst also being representative of the various ethnicities, religions and the general social fabric of the area in which we had advertised. However, this didn’t happen by accident or happy coincidence.

Like many leading construction firms across the UK, the business for which I now work - national building contractor United Living - has been taking positive measures to address its own inconsistencies and to help tackle the wider challenges that our industry faces around equality, diversity and inclusion.

As part of this work, United Living has begun to instruct its recruitment agencies across the UK to provide more diverse candidate shortlists. While this company policy is too early in development to offer specific results, the strength of applicants that I’ve already seen has hinted at its larger potential. It led me to reflect on how the industry as a whole has been too slow in making such an important change.

I feel strongly that future generations will look back on this period of time and wonder why it had been so difficult to achieve true equality and diversity across the workforce; not just in the construction sector but more generally speaking. Similar to how it’s astonishing today to think that Section 28 – the controversial clause that prohibited the discussion of same-sex relationships in schools and workplaces – was only abolished 15 years ago.

This year has seen some real breakthrough moments in creating a more inclusive workforce, with the introduction of mandatory gender pay reporting and the consultation for ethnicity pay reporting that is now underway. I’m an eternal optimist and I believe that gradually we are moving in the right direction because of these changes, but like many, I’m impatient for the pace of change.

United Living introduced its fairer recruitment policy following an audit of diversity across its workforce. The results were healthy for a business of our size in the sector; of 580 members of staff working across the UK, a high percentage of the team are women and/or from BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds - 30% women / 13% BME. This stands strongly against the current national average for UK construction workers - 7.4% of construction workers are from BME backgrounds and 12% are women.

Yet this is not about being proud of, or embarrassed about the business’ positioning. It’s about understanding exactly how we are performing, so that we can begin to make necessary and appropriate improvements.

While on the face of it, the gender and BME balance is strong across United Living’s workforce, there is still much to be done to ensure fairer progression opportunities. There is also a real challenge not just around the supply of a diverse workforce but also related to the demand. With an ageing workforce, we need to do more to improve negative perceptions of our industry and ensure a career in construction appeals to people from all backgrounds.

In response, we’ve created a 10-point action plan to improve diversity. Challenging all staff responsible for recruitment processes and ensuring that recruitment agencies provide diverse shortlists, is just one of those actions. Much like the other nine steps that we have set out, success will rely on input from a number of individuals working within our core team, alongside those organisations within our supply chain.

As an industry, we all must support each other in creating a truly diverse workforce, because diversity of people is diversity of mindset.

United Living’s ten-point diversity action plan

  1. Sign up to sector charters and campaigns, and work together with our industry to make faster progress.
  2. Compile diversity-related data on the composition of our workforce; identify under-represented groups and mirror the communities we work in.
  3. Widen our pool of candidates by challenging all staff responsible for recruitment to ensure that all shortlists are diverse.
  4. Ensure fair recruitment processes and eliminate unconscious bias by providing mandatory recruitment training for all recruiters.
  5. Allow our people to progress with the right skills and values; placing equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of succession and talent management.
  6. Encourage newcomers into our industry through an early careers strategy.
  7. Embed an inclusive culture that ensures our leaders are champions of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
  8. Mandatory equality, diversity and inclusion training to create a culture that allows everyone to fulfil their potential.
  9. Unlock the value of a flexible working approach.
  10. Strengthen access to coaches and mentors for all employees.

Equality, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of what United Living does as a business. This piece, written by our Managing Director for the North, Jo Jamieson, originally appeared in Construction News.


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