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Inclusivity In Construction

Inclusivity in the workplace has become a significant area of focus over the past decade, particularly in the construction industry. It is now more important than ever to make a real effort to change the culture and attitudes engrained in the construction sector.

Historically, building sites and other construction environments have been considered places of gender-oriented prejudice and discrimination. Whilst no two construction sites or workforces are the same; a blanket view has been formed of the industry. It is perceived as an environment that does not welcome diversity and actively excludes anyone with a ‘protected characteristic’.

The underrepresentation of specific demographics in the built sector puts it at a self-inflicted disadvantage when there is currently a serious skills shortage. There is no room to be exclusive, as more than ever, workers are needed to fill crucial roles. Multiple people are affected by prejudice and discrimination in the construction industry, even today. This includes women, ethnic minorities, the elderly and those with disabilities.

Manual Labour: a Man’s Job?

Manual labour has long been regarded as a man’s role, and prejudice has been born with this. Female labourers have witnessed changes in how other industries have worked towards a more diverse workforce. Still, the trade industry has barely moved forward. Likening it to “a big lumbering dinosaur”, the Women and Manual Trades group have made clear that now is the time for a change.

Due to shortages in manual tradespeople, the industry has been forced to turn to women to fill the gaps. It is a great industry and one in that women could thrive. It provides flexibility and good pay and develops many valuable skills that can be transferred to other aspects of life.

A prejudice has, however, been formed over centuries of exclusion in manual labour industries. This is mainly centred around heavy lifting, but the truth is now, no one should be required to lift heavy loads manually. Technology has come a long way, and with the dawn of vacuum lifters and tow tugs, what would have previously been limitations have been removed.

Historical Prejudice in Construction

It would seem that there has always been an issue with inclusivity in the construction industry. Even today, there are still a number of reported workplace discrimination cases, mainly targeted at women.

It is said that 47% of construction workers believe that a male-dominated culture is responsible for many women leaving the industry. But, the problem affects more than women alone. In the same survey, 8% of men reported being on the receiving end of inappropriate comments made by their female colleagues. As more people feel comfortable coming forward about cases of discrimination, it only highlights the scale of the issue and how ingrained it is in the culture.

Why is There Such a Lack of Inclusivity?

Construction remains, even today, the most white-male-dominated industry in the UK. Only 6% of the UK’s BAME (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities) population are employed in the construction sector and only 15% of UK females. These numbers are, unfortunately, low for a reason. Significant barriers exist for these demographics to overcome to thrive in a construction job role. These barriers include:

A perceived hyper-masculine ‘laddish’ culture

A lack of diversity in the workforce perpetuates the dominant culture as a white male demographic. This can be offputting to those who don’t fit into that demographic, as they fear they won’t find anyone to relate to their experience.

Fear of immediate rejection

There is an underlying worry that those who do not fit the perceived construction worker stereotype will be ruled out of the recruitment process because of it. Several studies have also found that ethnic minority graduates are less successful in the recruitment process for construction roles.

A Glass Ceiling

Many things are standing in the way of women and BAMEs progressing their careers in construction. These include being given less responsibility, ignored, and excluded from professional and social events.


There is an unspoken understanding that those with friend or family connections to recruiters are more likely to secure a job than someone of a minority background with more qualifications.

Racist, homophobic & sexist language used on-site

Offensive attitudes and behaviours considered ‘banter’ in workforces actively exclude and discriminate against minorities. One study found that 53% of construction workers reported hearing racist language within the last year.

The Equality Act 2010

The current laws around workplace equality were introduced in 2010. The Equality Act replaced the previous anti-discrimination laws being enforced in work environments. It acts as a blanket ruling, making it easier to understand the legislation regarding workplace discrimination and in wider society.

Types of Discrimination Outlined by The Equality Act

It is currently to discriminate against somebody in the workplace based on the following protected characteristics:

● Age

● Race

● Gender

● Disability

● Religious beliefs

● Relationships

● Pregnancy or maternity leave

● Sexual orientation

The Equality Act also protects people associated with someone with any of the above-protected characteristics who’ve made a discrimination claim or supported someone else’s claim.

Types Of Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination doesn’t always look the same and can sometimes disguise itself in different forms. Awareness of the types of discrimination is essential in keeping a workplace diverse and inclusive. Someone can be discriminated against in any of the following ways:

Directly - treating anyone with a protected characteristic differently based on that characteristic.

Indirectly - making blanket rules or providing a work environment that puts someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage.

Victimisation - discriminating against someone because they’ve made a discrimination or harassment claim against someone.

Harassment - violating a person’s dignity with offensive, unwanted behaviour based on their protected characteristic.

The Effects of Workplace Inequality

While the effects of prejudice and discrimination on individuals' self-esteem and well-being are apparent, inequality also impacts how well a workplace can function. Companies that exclude minority groups risk giving themselves a bad reputation as somewhere to be avoided by job seekers.

Hostile environments actively reduce workers’ job satisfaction, engagement and performance. All of which add up to poor productivity and even resignation. There is also the risk of legal action against the business due to bullying or harassment. Employers have a duty of care to their workers to monitor, prevent and penalise any of these behaviours in or outside of work.

Is Inequality in Construction Getting Worse?

Research shows that female construction workers' job retention is rising as of 2020. 23% of women reported having been in their position for over two years, which is a 4% more than in previous years. However, despite job retention, 52% of women reported having never seen a female in a position of authority. These improvements are baby steps towards a brighter future for women working in the construction sector. However, there is still a long way to go regarding changing attitudes towards women in this work environment.

More women than ever before are reporting instances of discrimination. The figure is currently at an all-time high of 72%, with 42% claiming they had been overlooked for a promotion due to gender. The floor has opened up for these allegations to be made and taken seriously, which could contribute to the rise of women coming forward. However, this doesn’t discount the fact that many women and other minority groups are still being victimised due to their protected characteristics.

Why Construction Should Embrace Inclusivity

As society moves forward to a place of better inclusivity, acceptance and diversity, those who choose not to follow suit risk falling behind. As one of the worst culprits when it comes to workplace discrimination, the construction industry is coming under the spotlight for the wrong reasons. With its diversity one of the lowest on record, construction fails to represent its customers and stakeholders. It is also not representative of the country’s population as a whole.

Brexit has put a strain on the construction industry. With many European skilled workers, job vacancies have increased due to new legislation preventing them from working in the UK. Because the industry is at such a crisis point, it can no longer afford to be selective about who it chooses to employ. It is more imperative than ever to embrace diversity and inclusion and reap the benefits of it.

McKinsey’s ‘Diversity Wins’ Report

The 2020 report on the importance of inclusion in the workplace found that companies with more women in the workforce were more likely to outperform others. Similarly, those with greater ethnic diversity considerably outperformed on profitability by a massive 36%. The report gathered evidence for the case of workplace diversity. It highlighted it as a way to increase businesses’ potential and help them remain relevant. Expanding a workforce with a diverse range of knowledge and experience will help educate an industry that has been stuck in the past until now.

The Benefits Of Diversity in the Workplace

In addition to the financial benefits of an inclusive work environment, there is a whole host of other positive changes that can result from increased diversity. Firstly, there is a greater talent pool to draw from. Not only will there be a more significant number of applicants for job roles, but also opportunities to take on intelligent employees who will be an asset to the company.

Secondly, if a company is making an effort to be more diverse, the diverse consumer base will see them as a responsible company, thus increasing sales. Lastly, staying ahead of the curve is impossible with a workforce stuck in the past. The broader the range of employees, the wider their skillset and knowledge base will be.

How to Encourage a More Inclusive Work Environment

Trying to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace can feel like an overwhelming task, mainly if it is something which, up until now, hasn’t been considered an issue. The issue of inequality in the construction sector is so engrained it can seem like an impossible feat to try and combat it. In these cases, leading by example is the best way forward. It’s a small step in the right direction, but it can be highly effective. If bosses and leaders can be advocates for inclusivity and actively work to change discriminatory attitudes, then employees are more likely to follow their lead.

Some things can be encouraged in the workforce as a whole. Encouraging people to speak out when they witness inappropriate behaviour or harassment can help stop it and promote a zero-tolerance policy. There are also benefits to reporting regular data regarding the workforce, as it will help a company assess their level of diversity and how it can be improved.

How to Report Workplace Discrimination

One of the key ways to tackle the current level of prejudice and discrimination in the construction sector is to report it. Whether you are a victim of discrimination or have witnessed another employee harass a colleague, you have the right and a responsibility to report it to the company. You can seek support from a fellow employee who claims to help you if needed. Speak to your employer first to see if they can manage the situation. You are entitled to take the issue further if it has not been sufficiently dealt with. Tackling discrimination head-on is the key to creating a more inclusive and diverse construction industry and helping to bring it into the twenty-first century.

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