The CITB has just turned 50 and to mark this achievement the Pride of Construction Awards were staged to celebrate individuals and companies who represent the very best of the sector. We were fortunate enough be invited along to the awards which were an invitation-only event, and thought we might reflect on them from our perspective regarding fairness inclusion and respect.
The first thing we should probably acknowledge is our bias, given that James Wates in his address spoke about the CITB Be Fair framework and its potential as a tool to change cultures and behaviours in the sector. It was not something we had been expecting to hear so we were more than pleasantly surprised, especially since it meant that afterwards there was a large number of contractors, clients, editors and CITB staff all wanting to talk about the framework’s potential and the credibility given to it by the mention in a key-note address.
For those of you who haven’t heard about the framework you can find out more here.
We felt the event did the industry proud, in the look and organisation (the food was amazing and the service was some of the best I’ve seen and I spent 8 years waiting-on as silver service) as well as the overall message and group categories. Those who spoke gave an impression of the sector that was professional, innovative and positive.
The awards given reflected a wide section of society (wider than industry stats it could be argued) and it was a delight to see so many very proud faces. We also felt having worked with some of the companies that won awards that there had been fairness in the judging and that small companies, who work so hard to make their businesses a success were recognised alongside the larger organisations. My favourite point of the evening was that The Mirror sponsored the Pride of Construction award was awarded to people who were currently working on site.
Overall this event was a very positive one and one of the best I have been to in industry with regards to fairness, inclusion and respect, we do though feel in the interest of progress we should outline where it could improve.
Now, no event will ever be perfect with regards to fairness, inclusion and respect – it’s a massive and very complicated area that changes over time which means that there has to be a focus on what it is reasonably practicable to do. And I should add, this is not a bad thing and as long as you are addressing the biggest and most impactful challenges and you are generally progressing.
It is important though that we consider where we can improve;I will openly admit that even as an expert in equality I get things wrong and therefore hope people see these comments not as a criticism but rather as helpful advice when considering their own events.
There are a couple of things we could pick up on that aren’t that unusual in the sector such as the judging panel being entirely white male, all of the awards being awarded by men or the disproportionate number of black serving staff. Now before the cries of tokenism start let’s just think about why this is important.
Consider you are a young black man (if you are this will be easy), early in your career and looking at where you can go in the sector. There is a strong but subtle message that comes across when people who are visually similar to you are not represented at a higher level but are abundant in a serving role.
I would imagine this wouldn’t be the reason people walk away from the industry, but if you do not find the same opportunities within their careers or face discrimination on the grounds of race then you may look to awards like this, or at the leaders of the sector, and wonder if the lack of representation is something that should inform your career decisions. The fact that the most prominent black person at the awards worked in another sector may only add to that narrative.
Solutions – Consider the mix of people in prominent positions and any message this may send to groups you are targeting in the sector. If we don’t send a clear message that there is a route to progress in the industry, talented people will walk away from the sector taking their skills and talent with them.
Solution – If the reason you have predominant group types in high profile positions is because you cant find a mix, don’t see this as a response – consider this an important challenge to be understood. Why do all of your key people reflect one section of society? How can you ensure the best, not just the similar,to rise to the top? Implement mentoring programmes, strong recruitment and progression practice and learn to appreciate that we promote in our own image. Without considering these things more carefully we may be compelled to accidently positively discriminate for white men – we need to open up the field.
We’ll leave you with a huge “Well done!” to the team at CITB who organised the awards in-house – I feel that in many ways this event made us very proud to be part of construction.