The face of construction – seeing diversity in the norm.

Usually when people refer to diversity they talk about the diversity that they see or recognise; someone’s race, sex or disability. In an industry like construction where visible 111diversity is often lacking there can be a tendency to see everyone as the same: – the builder becomes a stereotype of a macho, hardened man; the QS, a staid controlling introvert; or the architect becomes a pair of fashionable glasses.

I happen to think these stereotypes are not only outdated but damaging – people who I know to be warm, caring and compassionate can act out of character in order to fit the norm imposed upon them. Whilst there is obviously a need to recruit, retain and support minority groups in industry, is there not also a need to celebrate and encourage the diversity we already have in the sector – even if we can’t see it?

We think so, in fact we see acceptance as a gateway-drug to better relationships, innovation and happiness in the workplace. With this is mind we are putting together a little campaign and we would like to know what you, the folks of the construction sector, think of it.

The premise is that just because you see me, it doesn’t mean you know me – we want to break out of our stereotypes and encourage others to see the diversity in the sector that we don’t always bring to work. We want to collect pictures of people working in construction with a board telling us 3 simple things

  1. Your name
  2. Your job title
  3. Something about you  which does not fit the stereotype of your  job role.

As you can see from the picture, I’ve started us off (any chess fans out there can find me on Chesscube or We hope to eventually use these pictures through social media to show the fascinating range of individuals in our sector; to highlight that being a builder (or other construction professional) is an important part of who we are, but not all of it, and it does not define our personalities, interests or beliefs.

So if you, like me, celebrate the diversity in the industry why not email, tweet, Facebook or pinterest your own mini biography #faceofconstruction and help us showcase the diversity of the 2.3million people working in the sector.

Why it’s important to know how we view other people; a post rationalisation of the “how we see each other” blog.

Last week we posted a blog looking at how people in construction see one another. The blog sparked a lot of comments mostly positive, though one with a word of caution. We thought that this was an important point and decided to take the opportunity to explain why we think we need to look at how we view other people in order to affect the way we treat them.What we see

Love it, thanks! Might use this as part of training for our access group trainees!Flick Harrris

It’s a human trait to desire to put people in neat boxes – it helps us identify, quickly and easily, the perceived dangers and threats; allows us to make on-the-spot decisions about how to react. A lot of the time, this is a useful thing to do that helps us negotiate life quicker and easier. Unfortunately though, much of the  rest of the time this can actually hinder, not only us but also progress in general, and sometimes it takes something like a humorous blog posting to realise just how often it is that we do this. 

Most of us know how difficult life is, how much pressure we are under and what could be done to make life easier if only other people took the time to empathise with our situation. Unfortunately, we do not always afford the same considerations to others and this means we can fail to see the pressure, and even stress, that they are under; this is especially true in sectors where there are a lot of roles set out in a confrontational format – like in the built environment. Here we have separate individuals and companies with different priorities (aesthetics, finance, structure, construction, environment, etc.) in order to arrive at the end product. Of course, each perceives their role to be the most important, which can get in the way of us all working together.

All too true, unfortunately. Whatever happened to working together? AND understanding that if one of the “team” working for the Client, either directly, or indirectly, fails, then ALL fail? Jim Kingston

The only way around this is communication and working together as one – for the project, not the individual roles within it, but as we know procurement routes are sometimes set up to work against this model. Worse still, companies frequently are too – with separate targets for different departments (e.g. quantity surveying and construction), so we probably need to make the effort ourselves. Having spent a year as a QS before becoming a Setting-out Engineer, I understood the importance of

Funny, you could take these same photos, and do the same with many occupations. Great points, though, in that we all think our piece of the puzzle is the most important. We think that we perform best and that other partners are not holding up there part of the bargain Sally Boven

.record keeping for re-measures and valuations, and would therefore make an extra effort to make these available to the QS department. I also used to offer the QS, and QS graduates, an hour on Friday to explain on a walk-around how the site worked as I had always felt this improved their relationships with the sub-contractors, which in turn made my life easier.  …That, and the fact that I liked talking about concrete and drainage – I’m not sure what it is that I like so much about lifting man-hole covers, but it’s a joy! These are just small things, but I recall someone saying “it’s the little things that make a difference.”

Very amusing, due to more than a hint of truth running through it. We all carry prejudice with us every day. In my experience though sub-contractors are treated akin to Dobbie almost universally!
We do tend to generalise our view of individuals according to their role, but should we? Generalisations are a negative influence and representative of lazy-thinking – we should seek to challenge them wherever and whenever we find them. Sheryl Curran 

So why not put aside some time each week, or month as I know we are all busy right now, to help a colleague understand a little more about your role, and how you can work together to meet both of your objectives. I always found giving an hour to someone else usually paid me back in more time saved elsewhere.

Construction and the black and minority ethnic communities

This week Panorama showed a programme called “Jobs for the boys”, which considered findings that young African men were twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. We were interviewed for the programme and gave advice on seeking positions in construction from the black minority ethnic communities. As it was only a half hour program not all of the advice we gave made it to the final edit so we felt a blog with further information might be of use.
Please note: this is a large and complicated area so do additional research into factors that may affect you.

Firstly, there are internal and external factors to consider. Internal factors are the things you do personally that might stand in the way of you getting a job and external factors are the things that create barriers for companies that are beyond your control. Internal factors can be due to your background, culture, community, etc., and can affect how you feel, hold and present yourself. One example is how you communicate. Consider that up to 83% of communication is reliant on non-verbal cues (proximity, eye contact, touch) and cultures can be very picky about the rules.  For example, a study found that Italians touched over 200 times in an hour when having a conversation, whereas the British just two to three. So if someone British was talking to someone Italian they might feel uncomfortable with the amount of touching whilst the Italian might find their British friend to be cold and unfriendly. This gives you an example of how the way you walk, talk and hold yourself can have a massive impact on getting a job – we know that most people make their decision subconsciously within seconds of someone walking through the door, so make sure your body language mimics what they are expecting.

Externally there are also barriers…..
Both construction and ethnic status are not as simple as they first look; barriers to construction for example, will depend upon what area of the industry you are looking to get into. The trades (the actual work of laying bricks, cladding buildings, etc.) mostly recruit people they know, which means if they mostly know white British people, they will mostly employ them.  On the other hand finding a job within the professions (Quantity surveyor, architects, site managers etc), where bigger firms often rule the roost, can be easier for minority groups to access than the trades, but promotion and a welcoming environment, once inside, can be a bigger challenge.
Black or minority ethnic status is also a dependant factor, as stereotypes and challenges differ between one group and another. Factors such as religion, skin colour, language, name, and family responsibility could have an impact on the way you are perceived which, whilst it shouldn’t, can create a barrier.  In construction we have heard “Asian kids don’t want to work in construction as they all want to be doctors” and “all the Irish are good for is ground-working”.  Unfortunately we have also heard far more offensive stereotypes (it should be noted not only in construction)  but I don’t want to reinforce them by writing them down.  The point is, clumping together issues around race isn’t always helpful, instead what I shall do is give some advice on what you might want to consider when applying for a job.

Please acknowledge that, in writing this, what I feel is right and wrong is irrelevant.  This is based upon challenges we know you might face and what can be done to work with the way things are – it is up to you to decide what feels right for you: –

What to do
Your CV – This should be about getting you through the door; interview stage is where you can wow with your brilliance. At CV stage companies are looking to see if you have the basic requirements but there are other factors that can hinder your chances of making the sift – your ethnicity is sometimes linked to the assumption that English will be a second language and then the further assumption that if it is a second language you will not be skilled enough in it – therefore you need to set out your stall.
Your name – Some employers in the UK are more likely to employ someone with a traditionally British name; we hear and have seen research on this from large and small companies and, as a workaround, people have been known to employ a British nickname to get them through to the interview stage.

Your spelling – Linked with language assumptions above – make sure you do all you can to challenge this perception where it might occur; people will be hypersensitive to your spelling and grammar and what my white (albeit Irish) name will get away with, yours might not.  Again it’s not fair that we have to work around these issues – but that’s why I’m writing this blog in the first place and trying to bring about change.

Your language – Cultures can have different approaches   to showing respect. So where in the UK we are somewhat more reserved, friends from Uganda and Northern India who now work in the UK can be somewhat more enthusiastic when applying for roles – exclaiming that they would “love the chance to work for such a brilliant, amazing and fantastic organisation”. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be seen as false and, consequently, weakens your application.
What to look out for
Also, companies that work for the public sector are subject to different legislations and are therefore, not only more open to employing people from none white British communities, but also have further support in place to develop their careers.
Where to go
These organisations can help: –
    • Stephen Lawrence Trust
    • Princes Trust
    • Youth Build Bradford

If anyone sees this as useful let us know and next week we will write about the interview stage next week.

Happy Building,
ChrissiFor all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website.



Welfare, construction and why it’s not about scroungers…

Between the bedroom tax, cost of living and the media showcasing of extreme examples of people taking advantage of the system, welfare has developed a bit of a bad reputation at the moment. People who are struggling to make ends meet, whilst holding down jobs, are questioning why others only have to sit in front of the telly all day and receive benefits that, if you read the daily mail, will keep you in the lap of luxury.Between political infighting, using benefits as a weapon to showcase how badly the last party dealt with things and the media’s recognition of public hunger for people to name and shame, I can’t help but feel it’s all gotten a little out of hand.  That maybe we need to step back, take the emotion out of it and consider why benefits exist in the first place – and what value are they to those of us that work in the construction industry.

Firstly, I support the benefit system – I know that 0.02% of claims are fraudulent and whilst I would prefer that that number was zero, no system is perfect and constantly flouting small flaws as a means of undermining an entire system won’t get anyone anywhere.

Whilst the media has encouraged us to look at those who claim benefits as work-shy scroungers there is a bigger picture and it includes me and you. In a transient, project-based industry that is now predominantly dependent on self-employment, labour gaps in employment can be frequent and, occasionally, long. Many save for the low periods but that’s not always enough to get by, especially when there are commitments and dependants to keep. The benefits help to cover that gap; they mean that you don’t fall at the first hurdle in the down-period, but instead, have the chance to pick yourself up and carry on.  They mean that people do not have to sell the tools of their livelihood to get by and that makes it a little easier to get back to work – it also means that when we, as an industry, need the workforce they are ready to start.

I know a few people who feel they are owed a living by the state, but the majority of people I know will avoid benefits till the last moment, only to find that when they do claim (out of necessity not apathy) they are vilified and made to feel somehow unworthy, which is not conducive to raising self-esteem and helping people to win work.

Let’s try and appreciate the scaremongering of Benefits from a different perspective -what if it is simply a political smokescreen to stop us talking about Starbucks not paying tax, or the media taking advantage of our desire to prove we are better than other people. If these things are true we need to fight for, and protect, our benefit system by refusing to further accept the myths that are sold alongside the welfare state.  Instead we should be proud of our heritage of helping those most in need and look at ways of getting people back into work.

Make no mistake, if the system is allowed to degrade in this manner, it is not just the fabled work-shy scroungers that will suffer; it is society as a whole.

Happy building,


For all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website.


  1. Unfortunately people are being conditioned by the media and government officials into believing that all people on welfare are scroungers. Thankfully the majority of people out there are too intelligent to be conditioned by such nonsense and fully understand the need for a benefit system that helps those in need.
    By Wendy Danks


  2. Chrissi.
    I fully agree with you on this one.
    I have been in the trade for 40years and as such have seen many recessions, what is not considered is that after each recession we lose a large percentage of trades,they just do not come come back to our industry. And can you blame them, we as an industry do nothing to help them, they are thrown onto the dole, as they have no option, and they then have to suffer that indignation.But god alone knows how they would look after and feed there families if this option was not available.
    Not everybody is a scrounger, but its a hell of a knock for any proud man to take.
    The systems need to be brought up to date, but it is a system we need so lets push to have it streamlined and modernised to meet the needs of the people that really do deserve it.
    By Ronald Pye


  3. Too True,I myself only claimed this year after being made redundant,what a horrid experience!How anyone can live on what is an absolute pittance,is beyond me I went from £68K plus bonus etc to £56.00 a week, then had to wait 9 weeks for the money. It goes to show you what those people who man those places mindset is,when they say “you could not have earned that much”! Well when I produced my wage slips it was a different story.But the best and funniest part was when they sent me to learn how to write my CV,just like “Pauline s Pens”Superb waste of my life as well as resource. I have now found employment and would not wish Job Centre Plus on anyone! Why do we not raid the Bankers and the ideal rich;s accounts like Cyprus,those S–S do not give a stuff about anyone but themselves,where is there “Big Society”Nowhere!



Is it all worth it in the end? Twenty things construction taught me…

Yes, no and maybe. You see, this question depends upon the role you work in, the people you work for, the company you work in, your personal support networks, your ambitions and your views on work/life balance.
It can be worth it; examples like Anna Stewart show that it is possible for a woman to rise to the top of a major construction company on her own merit.
It can also not be worth it; there are unfortunately a lot of people who have left the sector because of the way they were treated, not because they did not enjoy the work.
Maybe; because there are many people who have found themselves somewhere they did not expect – in education, training or running a business, as a result of the environments they worked in.
I can only speak from my own experience, but I feel it was worth it. Whilst I was not able to achieve my original ambitions of building flagship projects and winning the Construction Manager of the Year Award, I have been able to accomplish many other things that I would never have thought possible, such as running my own business, undertaking a PhD and speaking in the House of Lords. Without my career in construction, good and bad, I don’t believe I would have been able to create the varied, challenging and rewarding career I have today.
So whilst I can’t tell you if it will be worth it in the end, I can tell you what working in construction has taught me: –
  1. People don’t always know what they are talking about, or care.
  2. There is a point when you get so wet in the rain that it ceases to matter.
  3. What hard work really is.
  4. The best sentence in the world is “I built this”.
  5. Some people will go a long way out of their way to help you progress, and never ask a thing for it.
  6. How to multi task.
  7. How to problem solve.
  8. How to manage, cold, wet, angry people.
  9. How to get up really bloomin’ early.
  10. That the impossible can be achieved as long as you have a programme and a good team.
  11. The importance of being kind, especially when someone is stressed
  12. How to run a business, before I ever ran a business.
  13. I cannot drink as much alcohol as ground workers.
  14. You can tell the amount of concrete in a wagon by the number of wheels it has.
  15. How to handle complex and interesting work.
  16. Trigonometry isn’t that difficult.
  17. Some people like being nasty.
  18. People will do extra work for you if you give them Jaffa cakes.
  19. Most people just want to be appreciated.
  20. Floating concrete is one of life’s small joys.

If you look at life as a journey and don’t consider the experience of working on site as an end point, but look instead at all the experiences that make up that picture, I personally think it’s worth it. If you get a good company and good managers that will help you achieve your ambitions – then brilliant, we wish you well. If you’re not so lucky, there is still a lot that can be taken away from the experience that will help you succeed.

Whilst I no longer get to build buildings, something that I miss very much, I get to run a business and possibly change an industry – two things I am only capable of because of my career in construction.
So yes, I think it’s worth it.
Happy building, Chrissi.
To view previous Constructing Equality Ltd. blogs please visit:


  1. Chrissi,
    Absolutely brilliant! Your eloquent description has captured the daily roller coaster ride that we consider normal.
    The design & construction business is challenging, maddening, and very satisfying when you get it right.
    It’s worth it.


  2. Yonelle Baptiste, MBA • Via linkedin
    Great post. I can relate to some of your experiences and yes working in the rain or in below freezing temperature can be very trying at times. However when the job gets done successfully, and your team feels proud of the work the’ve accomplish, it’s worth it. I always reflect on the experiences I went through and look at the lessons learned.
    Chrissi, just like you, I have started my own company last year, so if there is any you would like to share as a result of building your own company please feel free.



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  4. Mihaly Slocombe ‏@MihalySlocombe via twitter
    From an architect’s perspective: 1. Produce good documents 2. Pick the right builder 3. Listen to his / her suggestions @CChrissi 4. Keep designing to the end 5. Pay attention to the detail


  5. Dillon Lechkobit ‏Via Twitter
    I feel like this is so true:
    I wish that every person involved in this industry should learn and enjoy the things you have listed out, but not everyone will.


  6. This comment has been removed by the author.


  7. Chrissi, it’s apparent from your 20 points that you’ve been in the trenches and you’ve articulated what many of us who have loved and succeeded in construction feel. Having built numerous steel structures in various parts of the world,in a management role, I can relate to the feeling of ” I’ve built this “.
    By Stanley Baker, PMP via linkedin


  8. Thank you for your comments, Id love to hear further comments regarding what construction has taught you and if its worth it from your experience.


  9. Janet T Beckett via Twitter
    @carbonsaveruk @CalibreSimon @CChrissi @CIBSEWomen
    Construction taught me ….”that most people are really lovely with only the very occasional b*stard, normally the boss”


Osborne today put construction at the heart of the economic recovery

This article was taken from Construction Enquirer – click the link to read the full article.

Chancellor George Osborne put construction at the heart of the economic recovery today as he unveiled sickly growth figures in the Autumn Statement.


Downgraded figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed the economy will contract by 0.1% this year before growing by 1.2% in 2013, 2% in 2014 and 2.3% in 2015.

He described the statement as “fiscally neutral” with money shifted from current to capital spending.

Osborne confirmed an extra £5bn for capital investment funded by efficiency savings across Whitehall departments as annual infrastructure investment was increased to £33bn.

Osborne said: “The British economy is healing. There are no quick fixes but we are making progress and Britain is on the right track. Turning back now would be a disaster.

“We are confronting the country’s problems rather than ducking them.

“In everything we do we are helping those who want to work hard and get on.”

To read up on new spending proposals and information regarding the reforms of the PFI system please visit Construction Enquirer website.