Opinion

Construction’s culture won’t change without real diversity

Construction must be clear that it wants people from different backgrounds if it is serious about culture change, says Caroline Gumble.

In the Construction Management issue for International Women’s Day, I want to share a couple of key points from the diversity and inclusion session at the first ever Global Construction Summit.

First, a shout out to those who sat alongside me on the ‘Diversity and inclusion – the way forward for construction’ panel. It was a pleasure to spend time, albeit virtually, with Alison Mirams, Stacee Barkley and Sandi Rhys Jones, while they shared their experiences, insights and wisdom with the audience. A recording of the session is available – look at the CIOB’s social media for the link.

Secondly, it is incredibly important to talk about changing the culture of the sector. We need to recognise the culture won’t change until we have embraced some real diversity. We must be clear that we need and want an industry with people from different backgrounds, different experiences, different perspectives – the whole spectrum of ‘different’.

Diversity, to me, goes beyond the protected legal definitions. Different is good and will deliver better buildings for all of society if all of society is represented in the industry creating those buildings.

“We must be clear that we need and want an industry with people from different backgrounds, different experiences, different perspectives – the whole spectrum of ‘different’.”

I also want to touch on something which is timely and relevant to the debate on opportunities to improve inclusion.

There are changing working patterns emerging as a result of most of us having to work remotely or in a socially distanced way. Clearly there are only certain roles within construction for which remote working is an option. But there are many who see this as something which has accelerated the shift in culture towards more inclusive working practices. If ever there was a time to rethink perceptions around
caring responsibilities, work-life balance and how to work remotely effectively, it is now.

Despite assumptions to the contrary, there can also be positive effects for some onsite teams. With the need to stagger working patterns to enable socially distanced working, this is not just a woman’s issue – many male construction workers commented on how much they have appreciated more flexibility and regained time with their families.

My call to action is, therefore, to help us present a better image of this important industry and to encourage a diversity of people to come into it – and thrive within it. It’s a fantastic sector, with lots of opportunities for individuals and lots of opportunities to deliver for society.  But it needs to be openly and visibly accessible to everyone.

Caroline Gumble is CEO of CIOB.

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