Ahead the UK Construction Week panel discussion – Political Correctness has gone mad? – Angela Dapper, Partner at Denton Corker Marshall, explains why the positive impacts of diversity can no longer be ignored, why it makes sense that the construction industry is represented by all corners of society, and how encouraging change requires a variety of opinions from both sides of the argument.
This is an intentionally provocative title for the panel discussion that will take place later this year at UK Construction Week. The reason for the title is to create a draw for both sides of the argument to be represented. Too often gender equality and diversity discussions draw likeminded crowds, essentially preaching to the converted. To really encourage change we need to reach further and get a variety of views and opinions involved in the discussion.
Gender equality is a subject that raises much passion on both sides. There has been a rise in awareness around gender equality through recent campaigns, such as the highly publicised #metoo campaign and the new gender pay parity requirements implemented by the Government. As a result there is a new wave of impassioned and committed supporters, which has led to positive action to help rectify some of the gender imbalances in our industry.
There is also a passionate opposition to this movement. In its worst form, social media platforms have been breeding grounds for hateful language directed against those campaigning for equality. The extreme case was in response to the request for a woman (besides the Queen) to be represented on British bank notes, whereby those that made this request, received death threats. It makes you wonder, why people feel so threatened by the idea of equality and representation, that it produces such a disproportionate reaction.
The Construction industry, more than any other industry, impact all corners of society. Therefore, it makes sense that it is represented by all corners of society.
But it isn’t.
The positive impacts of diversity and equality can no longer be ignored. Most business leaders are savvy enough to at least see the economic benefits of gender equality and diversity, in regards to additional productivity and turnover. We also cannot ignore the fact that the construction industry has higher than average suicide rates. 1,419 people working in skilled construction building trades took their own lives between 2011 and 2015. 1,409 of these were men, 10 were women. The construction industry has 1.6 times the national average for suicide rates. If broken down into sectors ‘Roofers, Tilers, Slaters’ suicide rates are 2.7 times the national average . These are appalling statistics and show that our industry could be doing a lot more to create a more supportive environment for all.
We should focus on two aspects for improving equality and diversity: one, how to get to get the best people into our industry and two, how to do the best for the people in the industry, male and female alike.
We can do this in the following ways:
- Promotion of the industry. This should be broad, but needs to start in primary schools, as is at this early age that children start forming views and generalisations about the construction industry.
- Get involved. We are all advertisements for our industry. I urge you to get involved in changing the face of construction. There are a number of programmes available which suit different levels of involvement, including mentoring, school and training support.
- Site work is sometimes challenging, innovation can help this. For instance, offsite construction can be both time saving, increase quality and also provide a stable and more attractive working environment. We need to look at innovations that improve working conditions.
- Finally, create a supportive environment where everyone wants to work. One that supports work/life balance, mental health and wellness. It is this kind of environment that is not only more supportive of gender equality but is supportive of everyone.
This topic shouldn’t be categorised under a title such as ‘Political Correctness’, which means too many different things to different people. This should be about us getting together to improve our industry for everyone. Above are just a few ways that we can improve our industry to make it more inclusive for everyone, however, it would be great to get your input and to hear your views at UK Construction Week on 9th October.
Angela is a Partner in the London office of Denton Corker Marshall. Notably, she was the Project Associate in charge of the critically acclaimed new Stonehenge Visitor Centre for which she was shortlisted for the Architects Journal 2014 “Emerging Woman Architect of the Year” Award. In addition to her architectural work, Angela is a RIBA Part 3 examiner, an occasional lecturer, mentor, public speaker, a WAN awards jury member, a UKCW Role Model and a member of the UK Construction Week Diversity Panel.