Diversity & Inclusion in Construction - Breakfast Event

Published: 28 September 2016

We were delighted to host an intimate round table breakfast seminar on Tuesday 27th September in London, which brought together highly influential HR leaders from across the industry. The primary discussion was steered towards tackling the ever more pressing issue of diversity & inclusion across the industry. 

The industry faces pressure from the growing skills shortage, upskilling and diversifying leadership, gender reporting issues and the embedded cultural challenges towards diversity. The group delved into the detail on many of these topics and discussions could have easily continued long into the day! Some of the key points that came out of the session are highlighted below. 

Talent

The industry faces a tough challenge in attracting new entrants at both grass roots level and throughout the leadership cycle. To attract new and diverse groups of people, the industry needs to work collaboratively to alter the message that is communicated in order to capture the minds of this talent. The competition amongst industries is fiercely intense and the construction sector needs to claw back some of the ground they have lost.  Enticing lost workers back into the industry was highlighted as an area in which immediate action is possible. There is also more to be done to reach new populations such as IT graduates who could have a fascinating role to play within BIM; we must ensure that the messages to these populations is clear and modern. 

Leadership is severely lacking across the industry. Many individuals in operational leadership roles are exceptional operators but often lack the commercial experience to cultivate exceptional client relationships, drive through growth and bring together high performing teams. Could businesses begin adopting a functional view to leadership in which individuals identified as leaders are able to occupy the core roles in businesses on a rotational model? In addition, some of the core project management skills are innate across a number of outside sectors which the industry could use. Should we be looking at areas such as manufacturing, oil & gas, PMO’s amongst others in order to bring in new and diverse approaches?

Collaboration across the industry

The commitment from the industry as a whole to tackle diversity & inclusion was raised in to question and the need to collaborate as an industry emphasised. Taken at face value, the gender reporting statistics could reflect progression with male/female ratios improving, but is there really much progression being made? At what level are the female populations within these organisations and are clients committed to allowing flexible working practices that will facilitate greater inclusion from different groups? The relationship between client and contractor  can create  difficulties in flexible working due to differing expectations of  working patterns. Currently flexible working is provided ‘under the radar’ rather than formally in many instances.  It is easily plausible that some roles within project teams (such as commercial roles) do not require being based on site and could be carried out from home. Project Directors could work across a portfolio of projects with fewer hands on responsibilities for delivery, in order to free up their leadership and team building skill sets which are constrained by the operational accountability. These suggestions are possible but would require the buy in from clients who currently seek in-depth reassurances at every stage and greater strength in project teams. Greater collaboration would help to break down these barriers and contractors need to empower their leadership teams to have these conversations with clients.  

Inside the organisation

A core point to be taken away was that the diversity and inclusion strategies could be sponsored by HR, but led by the business. There needs to be engagement with senior leaders who understand and buy into the endless benefits that deep-rooted diversity & inclusion strategies brings to a business. Without this buy in from the management team any cultural changes are likely to face resistance, especially when businesses are under strain, and too often fall by the wayside.  Organisations also need to ensure they can create a culture empowering individuals to change as this seemingly inspires far more buy in from the overall workforce than when there is just top-down pressure. 

It is clear that there is a tremendous amount that can be done by the collective to encourage, ingrain and entwine diversity throughout all corners of the industry. It is perhaps that a “paradigm shift” is required to remove some of the current and stubborn practices that act as barriers to real diversity and inclusion. The industry must work collectively and collaboratively to be more attractive to a broader and diversified population. 

The purpose for the event was to allow HR leaders to share knowledge and discuss how to best drive change across the industry. It was fantastic to see guests still talking as they left the building and as such, we will be looking to host similar events in the near future. 

George Dobbins is an Associate Consultant in the Build Environment practice specialising in leadership appointments across the sector.

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