There’s a bit of a trend happening as we come out of the recession and start to refocus on skills. Part of it is that we are looking to women and gender to overcome the skills shortage, the other part is that we are looking for the reason why women and minority groups are not represented. This in itself is not a bad thing; in fact it’s a good thing.
The challenge comes when people start looking outside of both their organisations and themselves. There are a lot of organisations and teams within them doing great work and focusing on their impact, but there are just as many, if not more, who feel the challenge lies solely with others, and that’s where the challenge for the industry lies.
You see there is no one answer to the challenge of making the industry more representative; it is a massively complex area involving a wide range of influencers, variables and outcomes. Current perspectives include: –
- Thinking there is one simple answer to solving the industry’s challenges.
There isn’t; it’s just not that simple. There is a lot of talk regarding getting more people into the sector as if that will make all the difference, but there is evidence against that. Pretty much any organisation in the industry can show you a wide gap between entry level diversity and that in senior management. If people are not being promoted it’s unlikely they will stay – we need to tackle the full spectrum of issues. It’s a massively complex area and what will work within a small sub-contractor will not have the same effect within an institute. CITB’s Be Fair framework understands this and guides business towards what’s right for their staff and their bottom lines.
- Presuming that people in business are on side with equality.
Some are, some aren’t and some don’t care. This is important; we need to understand what attitudes exist within our companies regarding equality in order to fully overcome them. Giving training on sub-conscious bias to people with aggressively negative attitudes to equality can worsen a situation, which is bad for business and for individuals. This is the area of focus for our PhD and a key part in ensuring equality works within the business.
- Looking outwards, not inwards.
It’s very easy to say what everyone else is doing wrong but so much harder to see where you might be able to improve. We meet many people and individuals who say the problem is with (external issue) without a second glance at their own impact. This is very concerning because if we all take this stance nothing will be done. We must ensure that those leading on industry change show how they have considered their own responsibility and put measures in place accordingly. Otherwise the only clear leadership measure is that it’s OK to just point the finger.
- Do what I say not what I do.
You can have as many company policies as you want, but if the actual message delivered by the actions of you and your business does not back them up you’ve probably just made the situation worse. Research shows us that the presence of a diversity strategy that is not well considered, and appropriately actioned, can have damaging effects on business.
- Focusing on what has gone before.
There is a lot of research on equality, both inside the sector and outside of it. There have also been a lot of initiatives over the years trying to tackle this issue. Yet at many of the gatherings I go to people often talk about this challenge as if nothing has ever happened before, suggesting old ideas as new and ignoring the lessons learned the last time we took a trip down that road. This is a sure fire way to set us back as a sector. We must learn from the successes and mistakes of the past if we are to actually move this agenda forward. Otherwise we will simply create a series of politically popular talking shops.
So what to do? Like we said, this is a massively complex array of issues that don’t become any easier when applied to the construction industry – our project-based working, long hours and fragmented nature creates a unique environment that must be understood if change is to be enacted.
The thing is though, we already have the solution – the CITB Be Fair framework considers all of these aspects and more; it is staged change for the industry at a pace it can handle and treats different organisations appropriately allowing for an action plan that suits them and improves the business.
It also has a strategy behind it that feeds information back into industry and works for the improvement of the sector.
To make change we must all take responsibility for our own organisations, actions and learning. Because if we don’t we might very well be part of the problem not the solution.