Helen Hayes MP: We must talk about diversification as an opportunity, rather than a duty, in the built environment sector

Posted On: 
26th September 2018

Speaking at an event in Liverpool at the Labour Party Conference, Helen Hayes MP spoke of the benefits to the built environment sector by creating a diverse workforce from local communities.

Credit: 
PA

The event, Building The Next Generation: Skills, Diversity And The Built Environment Sector, sponsored by CIOB, RIBA, RICS and RTPI and hosted at RIBA North, examined the barriers to diversity across the built environment sector.

Helen Hayes MP called on the sector to draw talent from local communities, stating that a workforce drawn from communities that are at the sharp end of the planning and development, “can only be a benefit”.

She spoke of the “cultural gap” that often exists between the professionals working on a scheme and the community being affected by the development. It would make it far less contested, she said, far better informed planning and far better design, if there was wide representation from the communities that are most effected by disputed types of development.

Hayes said that planning was “a highly politicised vehicle.”

The MP for Dulwich and West Norwood spoke of her diverse “clued up and politicised” young constituents, who had a strong sense of justice and are living at the sharp end of the housing crisis, living with the pressure around gentrification and living with the reality of climate change.

She stated that almost none of them know that planning exists as a profession.

By tapping into the things that young people care about, Hayes said, they can be shown that they can make a difference by getting involved in planning and other related built environment professions.  

She proposed that this would be achieved by working in schools by showing the connection between the things that affect everyday lives of our young people and the built environment.

Hayes, who is a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee in Parliament, said that unless we are taking that message out to schools “you have lost that opportunity.”

This was agreed with by Chithra Marsh, Associate Director, Buttress Architects, who stated that grass-roots education and applying the subjects learned at school to the world around would stimulate interest in the sector from young people.

Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, saw the terrific need to ensure there is better knowledge of what careers in the sector are like in the 21st Century, particularly because of the projected shortfall of 200,000 workers in the sector by 2021, which she referred to.

Alongside work in schools and local community involvement to stimulate diversification in the industry, the panel discussed what can be done specifically to attract women and people from a BAME background into the sector.

Dr Claire Handby MCIOB, Director at Deloitte Real Estate, spoke about the importance of maternity and paternity cover and the work needed by the built environment sector to allow flexible working so that employees have “time to live to work instead of work to live.”

She believed the lack of flexible working was as big barrier to women entering the industry.

Handby quoted recent research by the CIOB, which showed that just 1% of those working on construction sites were women.

Culture change

Blackman-Woods said the number of women working more broadly in the sector was “absolutely dreadful” and that not enough women see the sector as an environment that they would feel comfortable in.

She spoke of the need to get a critical mass of women to lead to a culture change in the built environment sector.

She drew on the example of when she arrived in Parliament, when just 17% of MP’s were women.

She stated that it sometimes was “an unpleasant place to be.”

The MP for the City of Durham said that as the number of women in parliament has increased, the culture has changed for the better.

The failure of the built environment sector to be a comfortable environment for women was also referred to by Marion Ellis, Founder of InspiringCX, who described the “ingrained and damaging” extent of discrimination against women in the industry.

She used the example of Personal Protective Equipment, and how it is often not suitable or safe for women to wear.

Role models

Viral Desai spoke of the need to show those from a BAME background that careers in the sector were an option by emphasising the important contribution the sector plays in society.

He discussed the need for role models in the sector.

The importance of role models and mentors within the sector was agreed by the panel.

Handby also emphasised the importance of sponsorship, stating that many “women and BME people are sat under glass ceilings” as there is not the sponsorship available to pull people up in the industry.