On 8th July 2020, Diversity Network hosted Diverse Construction LIVE – an online conference featuring illuminating presentations and panel discussions from some of the industry’s leading voices on equality, diversity and inclusion.
Many elements of D&I were discussed during the event, and if you missed it then you can access the sessions on-demand by entering your details here.
Here are just five of the many insightful points we took away from the interactive conference:
- Stronger together
All of our speakers and panellists agreed that the sector must work together to ensure inclusivity and a future pipeline of diverse talent to address the much-discussed skills gap.
In the opening session, Building People’s Rebecca Lovelace outlined the importance of joined-up activity. As a solution to this, Building People has developed a platform to bring people, knowledge and opportunities together, acting as a ‘network of networks’ to collaboratively address the industry challenges of skills, diversity and social value. It was really positive to hear from the audience that many supported this and were keen to get involved with the platform.
As well as the benefits of a cross-industry approach, a couple of the speakers highlighted how partnerships with organisations outside the industry could be invaluable.
Christina Houlgrave, Inclusion and Diversity Manager at Skanska UK, said: “Not every organisation has a great deal of resource, and we can’t know and understand the experiences and challenges of every group. Strategic, long-term partnerships with specialist organisations have been highly beneficial for us. These don’t necessarily need to be consultancies; we have worked with some fantastic charities and foundations such as the Stephen Lawrence Trust and Leonard Cheshire.”
- We currently have a real opportunity to instigate more flexible working practices
Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 and its impact on how we work was frequently referenced during the conference. The pandemic has, of course, had many negative effects, but it was acknowledged that there is a real opportunity for the construction industry to make permanent changes for the better.
As the world went into lockdown, the sector was forced to embrace flexible working – which has previously been trialled by some, while others have had real challenges in achieving buy-in. With companies now seeing clear evidence that flexible working can work, most of our speakers and audience were optimistic that this would only develop further in the post-pandemic world.
The main difficulty is how flexible working can apply to site staff. Christina Houlgrave shared some useful advice on how companies can undertake small-scale trials with project teams to explore the options. As part of one trial, a small group of foremen at Skanska started having half a day off-site to work from home, with a ‘buddy system’ in operation. This worked well, as did investment in technology to record daily health and safety briefings, which meant they could be watched remotely and gave more opportunity to try split shifts and compressed hours.
“We have found flexible working trials with project teams to be effective, but of course, timing is everything and every site has its own constraints,” Christina said.
“Get in early at the start of a project, find a passionate on-site champion, take advantage of project directors’ natural competitive nature, and involve your supply chain to ensure this can work for everyone.”Christina Houlgrave, Inclusion & Diversity Manager, Skanska UK
Encouragingly, our poll showed that three quarters of attendees were confident that the industry will continue to embrace flexible working in the ‘new normal’.
- Cultural and behavioural change is what really shapes your D&I journey
Dawn Moore, Group People Director at Murphy Group, spoke passionately about the importance of organisations looking at the whole picture of their culture and behaviours. While reviewing policies and providing training on elements such as unconscious bias are a great start, these things can only go so far to creating a truly inclusive culture.
“Inclusion driving diversity is the key,” Dawn said – and this was reiterated by our panellists later in the day too. “You can set all the targets and conduct all the training you like, but this won’t make your employees feel like they belong. We need to take inclusion to the next level and the current situation provides an opportunity to focus on this. Now is definitely not the time to put your D&I goals on hold.”Dawn Moore, Group People Director, Murphy Group
- Ask your workforce for their opinions
Everyone agreed that employee networks can be hugely effective in helping embed an inclusive culture and sense of belonging, but they must have a clear purpose, and have allies from outside each group.
“Sponsors are so key for networks,” Christina advised. “Don’t be afraid to ‘interview’ your senior leaders for the position – ask them why they are the best person to do this. Networks also work best when they have allies from outside that group involved, who can help do the work so that the group itself is not left with so many extra commitments on top of their day job.”
In addition to its global employee survey on D&I and work/life balance, Skanska also introduced lockdown pulse surveys to get real-time feedback on how people were feeling.
Dawn Moore commented on how useful pulse surveys have been for Murphy, and advised that we should make the most of the forthrightness of people in construction and get their honest opinions on the company culture.
Dawn also raised the importance of inclusive communications; look at where your teams are and what resonates with them. One size doesn’t fit all, so to get the key messages across, ask them how they would like to receive information. Murphy also looked at the ways their policies and job adverts were written, re-writing in some cases to ensure they are presented as inclusively as possible.
“D&I cannot be something that only concerns HR,” Dawn said. “Engage ambassadors from your workforce who are on the front line and will champion D&I for you on the ground. Plus, don’t call it an ‘initiative’ – we’re in a commercial sector and we’re used to project plans with a start and end point, but D&I has to be a continual part of what we do.”
- There are still barriers – but there are actions we can take
Our panel discussed perceptions of the industry and the perceived barriers to entry. The panellists agreed the importance of visiting schools and speaking to children about the wide range of roles available in construction – starting from primary school age.
Marion Whitty, Head of Talent and Development at Countryside, and Chithra Marsh, Associate Director at Buttress and previous chair of Women in Property NW, said that “we need to better educate the educators” as well as parents, about the variety of career paths the sector offers.
Jackie Anyango, chair of Skanska’s BAME+ Network, highlighted that we must look at who from our organisations is visiting schools. “We need to be more strategic. If you don’t see anyone who looks like you, you might feel that your career is already capped or that that sector is not for you. We want everyone to feel that the door is open to them.”
As Christina Riley, founder of LGBT Construct, rightly said: “Who wouldn’t want to be part of the amazing construction projects that we have all worked on at our organisations!”
The panel also talked about retaining diverse talent; while the sector may be seeing more of a diverse intake on apprenticeship programmes for example, we need to ensure that these individuals do not leave the sector before they can progress.
Teik Tan at Balfour Beatty suggested looking more closely at leaver data, and then creating a retention strategy with an executive sponsor, to avoid ‘revolving door syndrome’. Marion shared that at Countryside, the careers of those on graduate programmes are closely followed to ensure they are all getting the same opportunities to develop.
All agreed that inclusion must come before diversity to make a real difference, and that by working together the sector can achieve much more.
Diverse Construction LIVE provided a truly insightful afternoon of case studies, advice and practical steps the sector can take towards greater diversity and inclusion. Thank you to all of our speakers and panellists for being so open and honest about their experiences, and for being part of the conversation.
If you would like to listen to the sessions from Diverse Construction LIVE, first broadcast on 8th July 2020, enter your details here and we will send you all the links to watch the sessions on-demand.