Addressing equality, diversity and inclusion creatively
On Tuesday 6th March, I had the pleasure of taking part in the UK’s first Women In Construction Summit and it was incredibly exciting! I have worked in the construction sector for over 25 years and it cannot be underestimated how inspirational it was to meet and speak with women from across the sector, engaged in everything from crane driving to development, to learn from their experiences and hear about the amazing work that they are doing to improve diversity for this industry.
I was delighted to speak as part of a panel discussion and share my personal story...
From Spark to Social Entrepreneur
I started my career in this incredibly exciting industry 30 years ago - I am an architect, a former electrician. I am now a social entrepreneur. I am also a board member for 2 charities and an elected member of the ARB.
I am a black, British female of Jamaican heritage and like the majority of people in the UK I attended a comprehensive secondary school. I am from a single parent family and our level of income meant that I qualified for free schools meals.
I know that this is not the typical background or profile of an architect, a board member or a professional, and throughout my career, I haven’t met a lot of people like me, and I think that is a huge shame.
Why Built By Us?
My experiences have been a huge inspiration in founding Built By Us, whose mission is to diversify the construction sector because I hate to see wasted talent. In construction, we have become too used to believing that the talent to design, construct and maintain one of our greatest assets, the built environment, comes in a particular package.
Built By Us exists to challenge the lazy preconceptions that have been allowed to flourish in our culture about who in our society has the potential for greatness, and to provide a space for that potential to grow.
The challenges I have faced on my career journey are not just about gender, they are also about educational structures, access to networks, stereotyping, access to financial support and challenging work cultures, all of which work together against the most vulnerable to create a series of barriers.
Having worked in the construction sector for three decades and over that time seeing modest improvements in diversity, I believe that D&I have been perceived as “too hard” for too long.
Fit for the Future
As an industry we are a sector of problem solvers, we can create places, spaces and buildings which offer shelter, inspiration or connection but when it comes to diversity we have become stuck in conservative ways of thinking.
I believe that diversity, along with technology, is the disruption that we have been waiting for, because it will help us to:
Innovate - new people ask the most important question in business, which is “Why?”
Fundamentally shift the image of this industry in a positive direction
Reflect the society that we collectively serve
If we as an industry can approach the challenges creatively, we have the potential to create an industry that is not only fit for the future but one which creates a better built environment, designed, constructed and maintained by all, for all.
My 3 Takeaways from the Event
Fundamentally the most exciting aspect of the event was around how many people want to improve diversity and understand the business case for making this change.
Here are my 3 takeaways on how change is being made:
Procurement is a powerful catalyst for change - In an informative presentation by Kate Hall - Design Director at High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) and Alice Jennison - EDI Manager at Costain Skanska Joint Venture, they shared how HS2 as commissioner and client is challenging and supporting their supply chain in making change.
Women are changing the business model - Founder of Golden Houses Developments Monika Slowikowska, is putting inclusive leadership at the heart of what it does, and the approach is paying dividends in reduced levels of conflict which is increasing productivity and profits.
More attention to detail required - One of the biggest reactions from the delegates (who were 95% female) was an image showing that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE Clothing) was available in sizes and designs to suit a range of women including modest/hijab friendly and for women during maternity. We don’t just need to encourage more women into construction, as an industry we must ensure that industry is prepared with the right tools to retain this talent and ensure that we create a more inclusive future.