The construction industry is aiming to improve its diversity but what more needs to be done?
Society benefits from great infrastructure. The buildings we live and work in, the roads we travel on, the cycle paths we use, the power stations that generate our energy. Just take a look around you. But, is the industry that drives the vision, the design and the construction of this infrastructure, inclusive, diverse and open to everyone?
With this challenge in mind, I invited colleagues from across the industry – architects, contractors, developers, planners and property consultants – to a roundtable discussion in the hub of the Northern Powerhouse, Manchester, to discuss the “whys” of the situation and the “hows” of opening the doors of our sector to a wider audience to contribute to the future of outstanding design.
Our industry has made great strides, but there is so much still to do. The debate revealed some perceptions shared with many other sectors: that feeling of a workplace glass ceiling, facing challenges around flexibility and family, and the lack of representation of women and ethnic minorities on boards.
Other industry-specific matters were brought to light, such as: accessibility for the physically disabled; the lack of discussion around this matter; the tendency of individuals in some occupations to be from certain socioeconomic backgrounds; and industry retention.
Our discussion also highlighted that the industry is poorly portrayed to future generations by careers advisors. Focus is predominantly placed on construction as opposed to the multitude of creative, design-oriented roles that exist which can appeal to a wide cross-section of society with a background in science, maths, business, computer modelling etc. As a consequence, a prime reason that many people enter the industry is because family or friends already working in the sector have encouraged them. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does mean that we are not recruiting from the widest, inclusive pool that we could tap into.
So how can we address this challenge? High profile, credible role models. An approach to proactive career “sponsorship”, rather than passive mentorship. More people who can offer advice and support to the next generation who have yet to consider our industry. And for those entering our industry, we need active support and encouragement to help them advance their careers from people who are not necessarily in the same business. Industry bodies such as the Forum for the Built Environment and Forum for Tomorrow, the latter of which I am the national chair, are great vehicles to drive this type of support and engagement.
As an industry, we have had an image problem, so we need to keep promoting a positive and realistic image of the built environment.
In simple terms, our mantra should be: if you have the skills, nothing should be a barrier to a successful career in this industry.
Anita Singh is land quality consultant with Hydrock