Diversity - the disruption to the workplace you've been waiting for

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) are a set of principles and strategies, with the core aim of building spaces in society, culture and work which harness the strengths of everyone, and values the potential contribution of all.

“Diversity, the art of thinking independently together”

Malcolm Forbes

Sounds good, right? So why has it been so challenging to create inclusive environments that work for everyone, particularly in employment? I have worked in the construction sector for over 25 years and I believe that diversity and inclusion have been perceived as “too hard” for far too long. There are a number of prevailing myths which have prevented the full engagement of everyone in making change - here are just 3 of them:

3 big myths about D&I

1. It’s all about “one-legged, black, lesbians…”

I am literally rolling my eyes as I type this. It is something I have heard from industry practitioners, and the essence of this myth is that ‘diversity has nothing to do with me’, as I don’t fit this view of diversity so, I don’t need to care.

The truth is that by design and concept D&I is about everyone and this is encapsulated in the Equality Act 2010 .

The Act protects everyone in Britain and sets out the premise for unlawful discrimination by defining nine characteristics which are protected in work and wider society.

Looking at the following list - it would difficult to see how every single individual on the planet is not somehow included:

Age; belief/religion; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; maternity and pregnancy; race and ethnicity; sex and sexual orientation.

2.  “It’s about people getting roles they are not qualified for!”

This is a pervasive and damaging myth that feeds into notions and assumptions that all too often have contributed to lack of diversity in the first instance, such as "political correctness" or “positive discrimination”  (which by the way does not andnever has existed in UK law!)

The UK’s Equality Act does allow organisations to take “Positive Action” in areas where a lack of visible diversity exists for example encouraging women into engineering (only 6% of registered UK engineers are female)  or encouraging more men into primary level teaching which is currently around 12%. D&I does not and never has ignored skill, knowledge or merit, on the contrary, what it seeks to do is to find and shine a light on the excellence that can be found in the wider talent pool.

3. “You can’t find women who want to be engineers.. or men who want to teach young children, that’s the problem!”

With persistent patterns of UK data showing a lack of diversity in key sectors, it would be easy to assume that what is being demonstrated is simply a matter of choice. This myth links fundamentally to the debate on nature or nurture.

The truth is that job roles carry a huge amount of stereotypical baggage, often going back centuries. Whether we are mindful of this or not, we receive thousands of messages each day on what is expected of us in terms of employment roles. Those messages become the framework for unconscious bias which every one of us is impacted by.

Why would diversity and inclusion be of benefit to everyone?  

We need to make a conscious effort to ensure that we are not missing out on the best talent and that we are giving everyone a chance to become their best selves and contribute fully, regardless of background. This will benefit everyone for the following reasons:

  • More choice - one of the ways in which work could become more inclusive is by encouraging flexible working. Flexible working enables employees to benefit from a range of working patterns such as compressed hours or job sharing.  This allows for a better work/life balance encouraging everyone from Millennials to Baby Boomers into the workplace.

  • More innovation - One of the downsides of working in a monoculture where senior staff recruit new staff who are similar to them is a phenomenon called “groupthink”  defined as:

“ the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making.”

An exciting and challenging aspect of working in the construction sector is the need to work in teams and to problem solve, often under pressure. A lack of diversity, in terms of approach, skills and experience can inhibit a group’s ability to think creatively and reduce opportunities to innovate.

  • Better business - when you a have diverse employees you benefit from a broader array of skills. For example, having multilingual workforce can help businesses expand their customer base and ensure that they better understand the needs of a wider range of client.

D&I not only positively impacts clients as a core business strategy, it is key to attracting and retaining new talent in an increasingly competitive labour market.

For years, diversity and inclusion have often been seen as a “nice to have” rather than a necessity for remaining relevant in a competitive market.  But I believe that if done well, diversity and inclusion could be  the “disruption” in people management that the industry has been waiting for.

Creating and reaping the benefits of an inclusive working environment needn’t be hard. While the construction sector as a whole still has some way to go in terms of the levels of diversity, I believe that inclusive strategies can be instigated right now to ensure the current and future workforce feels engaged and valued.  

A change will be good for the construction sector, helping to improve its service, its image and ensuring that the industry reflects the society it serves and is fit for the future.

By Danna Walker, Director of Built By Us

To find out more about how you can access diverse local talent for your business visit our page for employers Built By Us