Dear UK Construction Industry – if you’re not directly addressing race/ethnicity in your mission to recruit more women – you’re failing.

I recently listened to “Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men” by Caroline Criado Perez, where at the very beginning of the book she discusses how the word “men” is universally used regardless of gender.

Working in construction, I’m used to this. The industry’s jargon is littered with “man hours” or “men at work” signs, so I initially rolled my eyes and didn’t see it as much of a problem – after all it’s always justified as “man” is short for “human” – so it includes everyone, right?

If you saw a “women at work” sign, you might think it was uncomfortable, or too in your face? However, in a world where a “women at work” sign was present, do you think I would’ve ever turned up to a site that didn’t have any female fitting PPE?

I am not saying that sites with no female PPE hate women or are consciously sexist, but it is a serious case of “it’s not a problem because I haven’t experienced it”.

Unfortunately, this same argument applies exactly to “All Lives Matter”. By choosing to change the language from “Black Lives Matter” you’re explicitly ignoring the needs of others – except I’m no longer talking about a baggy high-vis or shoes 2 sizes too big – I’m talking about people’s lives.

In nearly 6 years of working in the industry, I’ve worked for two huge players in the market. Fortunately enough I have always been involved in the diversity & inclusion conversation. I’m embarrassed to admit that it has taken everything in the media (and some spare time in lockdown) to put this higher in my list of priorities.

Since 2017, companies that have 250+ employees have had to report on their gender pay gap. In the construction industry, only 14% of the workforce is female and unfortunately a large proportion of the female workforce undertake lower paid administrative work, whereas the senior management are majority male. This caused an obvious stir when the first Gender Pay Gap reports were published; and most companies responded by creating Gender Pay Gap or women’s steering/focus groups.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post on social media stating that there is a racist problem with feminism. In fact, this can even be referred to as white feminism – which I had never heard of before. For those who have also never heard of this, here’s a definition: “feminist theories that focus on the struggles of white women without addressing distinct forms of oppression faced by ethnic minority women and women lacking other privileges.”

This took me back to last year when I attended a conference in Milton Keynes named “Better by Design – Racially de-biasing recruitment”. It was here that I learned that those from a Middle Eastern and North African background had to make 90% more applications than applicants with a White British background, 80% more for a Nigerian or South Asian heritage. This is with identical job applications (CVs, covering letters, years of experience etc.). There were stories shared of Black females legally changing their name, just to get a job.

Another argument that was presented was the discriminative effect of “refer a friend” schemes in workplaces. This is backed up in a paper by P. Missa & V. Ahmed in 2010, which stated the following:

“in order to encourage effective BME networking and support systems to help counter this problem, it is necessary to expand opportunities for work placements as most construction firms tend to be fragmented and family based where institutional nepotism is rife (ConstructionSkills, 2007, Ahmed et al., 2008)”

With all of the above in mind, I decided to dig a little deeper into the statistics of BAME women in the construction industry. 

According to the ONS Annual Population Survey, the Black & Mixed working population across all industrues is currently 1,306,700. If we can assume that 50% of these people are female, this means that to achieve a 50:50 gender split within any company, the workforce would have to be 6% Black/Mixed female to be representative of the UK working population. In fact, when considering other minority ethnic groups too (when including White non-British), the workforce would have to be 21% BAME to be representative of the UK working population.

In the UK construction industry however, it’s almost no surprise that “figures from the ONS’s Labour Force Survey show that in the fourth quarter of last year (Q4 2018) just 5.4% of construction workers were BAME”. 

I also read a paper published by the College of Estate Management in 2014. In this study, respondents were asked to state their agreeableness with the statement: “there is a discriminatory state in the construction industry”.

To further support the evidence above, I have come across a paper titled “Factors Affecting the Equality and Diversity of Ethnic Minority Women in the UK Construction Industry: An Empirical Study”. Within this report 100% of the Ethnic Minority respondents disagreed that men and women are paid equally, compared to only 50% of the White/White British women who also agreed.

At this point – backed by the evidence above – surely, we must ask why their experiences are different to ours? How can we expect to attract a target of 6% Black & Mixed women to our workforce, when they are 200% more liked to feel discriminated against?

Although it has already been speculated for years, petitions are now ramping up speed to implement the publishing of Ethnicity Pay Gap Reports, much like the Gender Pay Reports mentioned above. Surely when there was such an uproar against the Gender Pay Gap, companies should be willing to act proactively rather than reactively when it comes to the potential exposing of their Ethnicity Pay Gap? 

Some efforts can actually be implemented into the existing womens focus groups, but ONLY if there is a direct push towards acknowledging the experiences of those from BAME backgrounds. If companies continue to sit back and take an (let’s be honest) “All Lives Matter” approach to their female workforce, they will continue to neglect a large number of females that they could otherwise be attracting to the industry.

I understand that my social circles are not very diverse at all, so please share this information with others to help educate. The construction industry is famously not diverse, and so it is easy for people to sit back and think…”it’s not a problem because I haven’t experienced it”. Like I said, I’ve been lucky to be involved in the conversation throughout, but even I still have a lot to learn.

I have attached a number of links below to the information that I read during writing this. I have admittedly been sloppy, so please message me if I’ve missed a link to a statistic used in this post.

P.s. not a catchy title – I know.

  1. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/research_report_23_race_equality_in_construction_industry.pdf
  1. https://wlv.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/2436/621230/Women%20in%20construction%20ICSF.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  1. http://www.arcom.ac.uk/-docs/proceedings/ar2010-0603-0612_Missa_and_Ahmed.pdf
  1. https://www.ucem.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/diversity_op_030314_low-res.pdf
  1. https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/work-pay-and-benefits/employment/employment/latest
  1. https://www.gmb.org.uk/news/construction-industry-just-125-women-and-54-bame


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