How to make construction sites more inclusive

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Making the construction industry more inclusive, and encouraging diversity from the board room to the construction site, means the sector will benefit from a wider talent pool, bringing new experiences, different ways of thinking and fresh ideas, says Rachel Newman.

Becoming more inclusive will bring business benefits and as well as being morally the right aim. However, it is also important from a reputation point of view, as customers, investors and other stakeholders will increasingly be looking for evidence of diversity and inclusion.

What are the legal obligations?

Diversity and inclusion at all levels within a place of work is key to its long-term success. Although there’s no legal requirement to have an inclusion and diversity policy in place, having one is a great way to show the business is taking both its legal and moral responsibilities seriously.

In the UK there are laws that set minimum standards and prevent discrimination and harassment relating to age, disability, race, religion, gender reassignment, sex and sexual orientation, for example.

The Equality Act covers the employer/employee relationship and confirms that an employer cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees during the course of their employment.

How do we become more inclusive?

The first consideration for any workplace is to ensure that there are effective policies and procedures in place. It is important that from an internal perspective employees can access clear information on what their rights are and what to do should they have concerns.

Once those policies and procedures are in place, they only become effective if they are put into practice. Managers should receive regular training on the policies and their wider responsibilities. This will help to ensure that the culture in all areas of the business is one that feels safe and inclusive to those working there.

From an external perspective, customers, clients and suppliers are all becoming more vocal in holding those they want to do business with to account. Having a focus on inclusivity that can be shared externally will help set businesses apart.

How do we become more inclusive for neurodiverse people?

Neurodiversity is a term that is still not widely understood. If someone is neurodiverse their brain may process information differently. This can include people with ADHD, autism, dyspraxia or dyslexia, for example. People who are neurodiverse can be a huge asset to an organisation, as they may approach problems from a different point of view and offer a fresh perspective and innovative ideas.

Neurodiverse people often face many barriers in the workplace and employers can do a lot to improve things. Encouraging a culture where everyone who thinks differently or processes information in a different way needs to have equal access to avenues to share ideas and make suggestions. A one-size-fits-all approach to idea sharing or project management may exclude people from contributing, losing the business some great intel.

This is something that should be considered even before an individual becomes an employee by reviewing recruitment processes. For example, asking someone who is neurodiverse to attend a construction site with little or no visual guidance on what to expect may prevent some from applying. Many employers are now filming short tour clips to include within an invitation to an interview to make the experience more widely accessible.

What do I do if a member of staff uses derogatory language?

Within the industry, there has been much publicity over the years of ‘cat calling’ or ‘banter’ that has shone a light on unacceptable behaviours. The days of employees seeking to attribute racial slurs or other derogatory language to harmless banter are very much over. Not only is this kind of language distressing for the person it is targeted at and others who may hear it, but it may also be a sign of a deep-seated problem that needs addressing.

If you are made aware of inappropriate behaviours that go against the business’s diversity and inclusivity agenda, it is essential this is addressed promptly, robustly and consistently.

The grievance and/or disciplinary policy will be the starting point here should an informal approach not be sufficient. Keeping a clear record of instances of inappropriate language or conduct will help to identify if there is any underlying issue that needs addressing.

Employees need to be very clear on what is and what is not acceptable conduct so that should the line be crossed it does not come as a surprise to employees that it will not be tolerated.

If you have a clear policy in place, it will be easier to tackle incidents of inappropriate language and behaviours through your disciplinary procedure.

Finally, and crucially, if someone does raise a complaint of discrimination, take it seriously and ensure a thorough investigation is undertaken. This will demonstrate a genuine commitment to supporting an inclusive working environment.

Rachel Newman is employment law associate at national law firm Bevan Brittan.

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  1. You really couldn’t make this up! Isn’t a Nationwide apprentice training scheme (sadly lacking for many years) for all building trades rather more important than yet more virtue signalling?

  2. I’m going to make a big assumption, rightly or wrongly, that Mr Brian Collins hasn’t had to contend with systemic and systematic discrimination as a day-to-day fact of his working life (and life outside of work for that matter).
    Raising a valid issue that impacts a lot of people in construction isn’t virtue signalling, it’s progress and it’s an attempt to make the industry more open and accepting for the future. With the skills shortage being felt in every trade and every level there needs to be change to attract the best talent.
    I’ll agree to some extent that a national apprenticeship scheme would plug some of the gaps, it will by no means totally solve the problem. What good is that kind of investment in people if they move into a different sector at the first opportunity to escape the toxic attitudes that are still on show daily within construction?
    It isn’t a case of having to make a choice between improving inclusivity or investing in apprenticeship schemes – it’s perfectly possible (and logical) to do both at the same time!
    And in case there are any assumptions about me being a spotty-faced snowflake, I can assure you I’m not. I’m a middle-aged, straight, white man, with no hair, and I’ve been in the construction industry for nearly 20 years. I’ve never had to be on the receiving end of the kinds of things I hear on sites and in offices, and I likely never will be, but that doesn’t mean I (and people like me) can’t champion change and welcome anyone and everyone into the industry, regardless of their background.

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