How Recruiters Can Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Construction Industry

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Many organizations are making strides to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their workplaces. However, D&I continues to be a problem area for specific sectors in the labor market, such as construction. 

According to a 2019 Building survey on diversity, only 4% of construction professionals in the UK are Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME). According to the Women and the Economy  report, construction is also a heavily male-dominated industry, with women accounting for only 16% of UK construction professionals. 

The situation is even worse in the US. According to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics , just 10.9% of construction professionals are women. 6% are Black, and 2% are Asian.

But why exactly is D&I so important? First, it helps to understand what diversity in the workplace means. 

What Is Workplace Diversity and Inclusion?

At its simplest, diversity and inclusion in the workplace  means valuing the skills, experiences, and perspectives of employees from all backgrounds. For many organizations, D&I means having a workforce that represents the same diversity in general society. 

To enable diversity, companies typically task their HR teams or departments to hire and nurture employees representing a broad spectrum of backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, age groups, and income groups. 

D&I programs build on existing anti-discrimination laws beyond what employers must do. 

For instance, in the US, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  protects employees and job seekers from being discriminated against based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010  protects workers from discrimination based on “protected characteristics,” which include:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief 
  • Sex 
  • Sexual orientation

While these laws have specific provisions against discriminatory practices, they do not require employers to have a diverse workforce — no law, at least for now. This explains why particular industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and tech, skew heavily towards white male workers.

However, this lack of diversity could result in construction firms missing opportunities to create a better working environment for employees and find new ways of driving growth. Employers don’t have to rely on legislation to compel them to be more diverse and inclusive in their recruitment, development, and retention practices. 

The key is to understand why a diverse and inclusive workforce is so valuable in the first place.

3 Reasons to Have a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce in Construction

Contractors and construction firms that are ahead of the curve when it comes to D&I are reaping the following benefits:

1. Enhanced Reputation and Image

2017 PwC report  found that a diverse and inclusive workforce influences how employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders view an organization. Companies that “do wellgood,” which includes opening their doors to marginalized members of society, are especially attractive to millennials and Gen Z job seekers .

Simply put, if you want to attract top talent, you must embed D&I policies into your recruitment and onboarding practices.

2. Better Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

Studies on employee engagement show a direct correlation between diversity and employee satisfaction. According to research by Changeboard , companies with diverse working environments have 12% more productive employees, 19% more likely to stay longer, and 57% better at collaborating with their peers. 

However, any attempt at improving the diversity and inclusivity of your workforce will only generate accurate results if it goes beyond statements and ideology. In other words, D&I movements only work if they are paired with practical policies and practices. 

3. Revenue Growth and Innovation

The same study by Changeboard also found that companies with diverse leaders generate “twice the revenue and profit growth as those without.” This is consistent with Deloitte’s findings, which show that companies with diverse and inclusive cultures are six times more innovative and agile  than those without. 

These findings aren’t surprising. For starters, diverse teams have a wealth of diverse perspectives that employers can leverage to understand their customers better. This leads to better problem-solving abilities and newer, fresher ideas that a homogenous workforce may not have access to. 

While there is no single approach to running a D&I program in the construction industry, there are practices and steps that will help set up your efforts for success. 

For example, it’s generally accepted that employees and job seekers are skeptical of organizations that claim to support equal opportunity and diversity. Gen Z and millennial workers are particularly wary of this; Deloitte reports that two-thirds of respondents from the two generations believe employers pay lip service to diversity. However, they think D&I only works if actual policies and legislation back it.

This means that employers in the construction sector must take concrete steps to integrate D&I into their hiring, onboarding, development, and employee retention goals. Examples of practices to consider include.

Aligning Recruitment Goals With D&I Goals

Improving diversity and inclusion begins before you even hire new construction staff. 

For example, when writing job postings, you can go beyond avoiding terms and phrases that indicate a preference for candidates based on their race, age, or gender, among others. Other practices that can be inadvertently discriminatory include:

  • Gender-based preferences influencing job adverts: This is particularly common in construction, where ads are often placed in men’s magazines and around shows with a predominantly male audience. 
  • Non-directive Interviews: These are unstructured interviews where questions are not prearranged. While this approach can seem like an effective way to get to know candidates more, it can also reduce objectivity in evaluating potential hires, allowing biases to impede your judgment. 
  • Targeting Candidates by Experience: Stating that you are seeking “recent graduates” or “highly qualified” candidates can discriminate against older workers and job seekers who have yet to build their CV.

Investing in Sensitivity Training

Training is critical to improving diversity and inclusion, especially in construction, where 72% of women  said they had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. Meanwhile, 60% of LGBTQ+ employees in construction  report being the target of homophobic slurs at work. 

Sensitive training ensures that everyone in the organization understands the value of diversity and the harm that discrimination can have on morale and employee well-being. Training can focus on two main areas:

  1. Informing employees and managers about the signs of discrimination, harassment, and bullying (based on protected characteristics).
  2. Teaching employees how and when to intervene when they see instances of workplace discrimination. 

D&I training should ideally begin as early as possible — in the onboarding phase, for example — to ensure new employees are immediately apprised of the organization’s culture and values on their first day. 

Set Diversity and Inclusion KPIs

No D&I program is perfect — hence why continuous improvement is so significant. You will need to identify the right key performance indicators (KPIs) to know what’s working, what isn’t, and how you improve your D&I performance.

Your employee data offers a wealth of insights that let you measure KPIs for representation, salary, recruitment, and promotion and whether these factors are influenced by specific attributes shared between groups of employees. For example, tracking your recruitment history may show a previously unknown preference for people of a particular ethnicity or age bracket. 

For construction companies, KPIs for diversity and inclusion can center on recruitment, promotions, and pay disparity. The key is to allow members of underestimated groups to help guide your KPI targets and analysis — otherwise, you may end up being called out for tokenism. 

Long Road Ahead for Construction

With a significant portion of the global construction industry made up of white men, employers face the challenge of preventing unconscious bias from influencing their hiring and retention decisions. This, however, is easier said than done. Cultures are often aligned by the view of those in the majority. To break this paradigm, construction decision-makers must be honest with themselves and admit the risk of a homogeneous workforce and how it often leads to normalizing inappropriate behavior and language. 

Alex Minett is the Head of Product & Markets at CHAS.


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By Alex Minett