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Building an Inclusive Workforce: How a New Industry Charter Aims to Transform Diversity in the Construction Sector

Credit: Chartered Institute of Building

Chartered Institute of Building

4 min read Partner content

To achieve long term success, the UK construction industry must reflect society as a whole.

As the nation commits to ‘Build Back Better’, the construction industry will be key to the UK’s future economic prosperity. The industry builds schools, roads, hospitals, and homes in every part of the UK, from the centre of London to the Highlands of Scotland.

However, historically, the people building this critical national infrastructure have not always reflected the diversity of the people and communities who will ultimately use it.

A new landmark report recently launched by the Chartered Institute of Building aims to change that. The “Diversity and Inclusion in Construction Report” sets out a practical roadmap for construction firms of all sizes to put measures in place that will lead to a more inclusive and diverse workforce. 

The report zeros in on five key areas where individual firms can make changes that can help to build a more inclusive sector. These cover leadership, planning, culture, transparency, and accountability. It sets these out in a new Charter which the CIOB is now asking its 50,000 members in more than 100 countries to adopt.

“What we build should meet the needs of society,” Caroline Gumble, Chief Executive of CIOB explains. “That is hard to achieve if we are not sufficiently diverse as an industry and do not reflect society.”

Gumble is equally clear that building a more diverse workforce is not just the right thing to do. It is also essential for the long-term success and sustainability of the construction sector.

The statistics bear her out. According to the latest figures, women make up just 12% of the country’s construction workforce.

This is simply unsustainable for an industry with bold ambitions for the future. As Willmott Dixon Group Chief Executive Rick Willmott has previously remarked, the industry has been “fishing in 50% of the gene pool for too long”.

And the diversity challenge goes beyond gender. The report also wants to see people from different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds more easily able to access the opportunities that the sector has to offer. The latest data indicates that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds only account for between 5% and 7% of construction workers. In senior industry roles, that figure plummets to only one in a hundred. For a modern, forward-looking industry, that is simply not good enough.

Chi Onwurah, Chair of the APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, is pleased to see the industry showing leadership on equalities. “I welcome the construction sector taking practical steps to improve the diversity of its workforce,” she told us. “This is not just the right thing to do for society, it is the right thing to do for businesses. With ongoing recruitment challenges across the sector, construction firms simply can no longer afford to ignore large parts of the workforce when it comes to recruitment.”

The report supports Onwurah’s view that improving performance on diversity is essential for the long-term success of the sector. In recent surveys 40% of construction companies report difficulties in recruiting new staff. The industry faces the challenge of an ageing workforce too, with a third of workers over 50. Taken together these factors create a perfect storm, where a failure to embrace diversity could rapidly become a business-critical issue. In short, unless the construction industry improves its performance on diversity, there is a real danger that it will miss out on the talent that it needs to survive and thrive.

The CIOB’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter seeks not to “blame” companies but to support them to do better. Construction is essentially a practical industry, and this is reflected in the unapologetically practical approach that the Charter takes. Instead of a top-down set of targets or lofty aspirations, the report aims to be a practical toolkit that can help firms, from small SMEs to large multinationals, build a workforce that better reflects the country as a whole.

Chi Onwurah believes that this practical approach is critical. “A real commitment to improve diversity is more than just having a piece of paper to hang in the reception area,” she tells The House. “It is about companies making an organisation-wide commitment to diversity from the building site to the boardroom, monitoring and measuring success. I welcome anything that supports them to do that.”

That is precisely what the new Charter on Equality, Inclusion and Diversity aims to achieve. The Charter focuses not just on where businesses will end up, but on where they are at the moment, recognising that different organisations are at different points on this journey.

“No single organisation has this cracked, but every one of us, and every business in this sector, can improve,” Caroline Gumble says. “Our Charter sets out a direction of travel and now each of us must plot the course towards a more inclusive industry.”

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