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Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion – why it needs to be a constant consideration and not a fashionable topic of discussion in industry

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In a month where we’ve witnessed an emotive interview with Meghan and Harry and the heart-breaking disappearance of Sarah Everard, as a society we have had a heightened debate on how much discrimination, prejudice and inequality still exists in our society.

High-profile examples of discrimination and inequality that we have observed over the past 12 months, such as the killing of George Floyd, have galvanised many to take action (for example the Black Lives Matter movement).  And they remind us that we are still on a journey.

Over a decade ago now, in 2010, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, published a report which put forward a ‘Framework for Action’ presenting ways in which the construction sector could progress EDI within the sector. The report highlighted the associated benefits of having an organisation or workforce that reflects the communities in which they are working.

And some progress is being made. Many organisations within the built environment have reviewed and refined their Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) policies in the workplace to ensure diversity and inclusion is championed by all.  They have put in place strategic and practical solutions and proactive interventions to ensure marginalised groups feel safe, included and represented.

But it’s also no secret that the built environment, and particularly the construction sector, is perceived to be behind other sectors on the EDI front.  In 2020, Building, a leading publication in the construction sector, conducted its second survey about diversity within the construction sector. What was clear is that respondents with ‘protected characteristics’ felt that they had experienced marginalisation and discrimination.

From the survey, “52% of respondents said there had been an occasion when they felt that their chance of being accepted for a job had been lowered because of sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, gender, disability or mental health condition, this increases to 77% for Asian or Asian British respondents, and 71% for people with a disability.”[1]

In balance sector champions highlight that diversity brings strength. Not only is it the right thing for the construction sector to develop diverse workforces, but it also has much to gain by ensuring EDI is prioritised and continually reviewed to ensure our workplaces reflect our diverse and vibrant communities.

EDI can provide many of the solutions to the challenges that the industry faces. Greater diversity within the workforce can contribute to increased creativity, innovation, more effective problem solving, enhanced reputation and profitability which all make for a compelling business case.

However, for the benefits of EDI in organisations to be realised, it must be prioritised. Leadership accountability is key and it is the responsibility of all to promote and support greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce, not just that of the HR department and support networks.

This month, we celebrated International Women’s Day 2021 (Monday 8th March), which also coincided with Women In Construction Week 2021. These pertinent dates in our diaries help to raise awareness and celebrate the achievements of underrepresented groups, encouraging us all to take action against inequality. It’s important that we mark these dates in our diaries and support them, but the conversation and promotion of greater EDI in the construction sector and workforce must take place every day of the year.

[1] https://www.building.co.uk/features/buildings-latest-diversity-survey-lifts-the-lid-on-discrimination-in-construction/5106649.article

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