Striving for a more unified industry
In recent years, the built environment has taken significant steps towards building a more inclusive workforce. Yet even in 2023, LGBTQ+ employees remain underrepresented. Ian McIver and Louise Lambert, co-chairs of the Pride at Mace network, explore what more our industry can do to ensure diverse and welcoming workplaces, and encourage better representation across the board.
What exactly do we mean by the terms ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’? It’s about more than just gender, ethnicity or sexuality - it’s about the different ways in which we view the world, and the myriad of experiences and values that we all bring to the table. According to research firm Gartner, inclusive teams perform up to 30% better in high-diversity environments. That means, essentially, people perform better when they can be themselves and are surrounded by a team from varying backgrounds. So as an industry, shouldn’t we be doing our utmost to cultivate this?
The CLC recently reported that just 1% of construction employees identified as bisexual, 0.8% as gay men and 0.2% as lesbian – compared to the 97.9% identifying as heterosexual. Even if you disregard how comfortable those being surveyed could be in disclosing that information (54% of LGBTQ+ construction workers say they feel uncomfortable being open about their sexuality on site), the numbers still make for stark reading – especially when you consider that, on a global scale, three out of 10 people identify as LGBTQ+.
It can, however, be difficult to know where to start when addressing industry disparities such as these. At Mace, our response has been to demonstrate our commitment to changing behaviours, implementing policies and developing a culture that underpins those policies. In 2017, we set up our Pride at Mace network which gives everyone an open, safe community in which to begin the conversation and over the last few years we have seen more allies coming forward and actively playing their part in breaking down barriers. A major step forward for the entire organisation was perhaps the adoption of pronouns on email signatures. A fairly simple measure but one which offered a platform for further learning, discussion and signified a united step forward. But of course, there is still so much more action to be taken – as an industry, as organisations and as individuals.
In the UK, the Equalities Act (2010) serves as the foundation of anti-discrimination law and sets out how all employers must enact fair recruitment, promotions and working practices. There are similar policies in both the US and across Europe. But while there are certain steps employers must take to remain lawful, truly inclusive organisations are those that go beyond what they’re compelled to.
Pragmatically, an inclusive workplace offers many business benefits; the ability to attract and retain the best talent, increase productivity and improve a sector’s reputation. But perhaps more importantly, it has also been proven that those who work in inclusive environments display greater commitment, loyalty and maintain better working relationships. By publicly supporting LGBTQ+ organisations and charities, our industry will not only help foster more open discussions within the workplace but encourage a more diverse sector overall. In 2020, McKinsey revealed that nine percent of job respondents had turned down, or decided not to apply for a job due to perceived lack of inclusion.
But while talking the talk is undoubtedly important, it is also necessary for our industry to ensure words are supported by actions. Central diversity and inclusion strategies are vital in achieving this. In a recent poll by the Chartered Management Institute, 44% of respondents said their employer had no workplace policy or guide, that may include transitioning at work and/or gender identity. Mace has always been a company founded on the principle of ‘finding a better way’ and our industry has to be able to draw on a diverse range of experiences and expertise, to deliver innovative approaches for our clients. Our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy helps make this a reality, sets out our commitment to providing equal opportunities for all our employees, creating an inclusive workplace, and eliminating any unfair or unlawful discrimination.
Impact at every level
Lack of understanding can sometimes lead to a work culture where people do not feel comfortable being themselves. So taking the time to educate employees on why a business is prioritising diversity can have a tangibly positive effect.
As such, it must become industry standard that employees receive training on diversity and inclusion upon joining a company, with training refreshed every quarter. At Mace, our Diversity & Inclusion Foundation eLearning is a mandatory training module for all employees. In addition to this, Pride at Mace run regular ‘Spill the tea’ sessions, which aims to support, educate, and prompt conversations by providing a safe and inclusive space, with previous topics such as ‘Ask us anything’, ‘What is going on around the world?’ and ‘Trans Awareness Week’. And in the UK, we will of course be marching in London Pride 2023.
Across the built environment, there is a clear opportunity to make an impact at every level of an organisation. For senior leaders, it is crucial to be a visible ally. But even more practically, those in positions of seniority often have a financial say – meaning the opportunity to set aside training budget for LGBTQ+ awareness speakers or direct line manager diversity training. Those managers have a pivotal role to play in creating an inclusive environment on a day-to-day basis. If a manager feels comfortable having honest conversations about personal experiences, it can encourage others to do the same. Being an active ally is vital here too. The impact of views expressed in even a casual conversation cannot be underestimated.
The importance of unity
The industry approach to inclusion must be focused on drawing from the richness of our differences. The built environment can sometimes be both stressful and challenging - people work long hours, sometimes with periods away from family and friends. Colleagues and camaraderie play a significant role in bolstering resilience during such times. That collaboration goes hand in hand with the sense of belonging needed for our industry to prosper. A unified industry is a stronger one.