On International Women's Day this year, alongside celebrating impactful women in the built environment, we want to look at diversity and inclusion in the sector in Scotland as a whole and assess the community, how we can accelerate the rate of change and what we can do now to make a difference.
The current state of play for diversity in Scotland’s built environment sector can be interpreted one of two ways. On the one hand, things are getting better. According to the Annual Population Survey, compared with 2020, there has been a 5% increase in the number of women working in the sector, and an 100% increase in the number of women working on site in manual construction roles.
On the other hand, when you dig further, for example, into the fact that this 100% increase still only means that 2% of all the women working in construction are working on site, these improvements offer less to praise. Despite the 5% increase in women in the sector as a whole, women still represent only 15% of the construction sector’s workforce and the sector’s 23% gender pay gap is one of the UK’s most significant.
The landscape is much the same for other underrepresented groups. Although minority ethnic workers make up 4.3% of Scotland’s workforce, only 1.6% of workers in the sector are from a minority ethnic background.
Pushing for change 365 days a year
On International Women’s Day, it’s right to praise the women we see having an impact in the field and excelling in the built environment community. But, when there remains such a lack of diversity and gender imbalance in the sector, it’s essential that we come up with and embed mechanisms to attract, support and promote women and people from underrepresented groups into the sector that go far beyond celebrating them one day a year.
UKRI estimates that equal representation for women in the construction industry will take 200 years to achieve if we continue at our current rate. Ensuring we have gender equality and diversity is much more than a ‘tick box exercise’. Marking International Women’s Day each year alone will not make the difference we need. It overlooks intersectionality and the fact that people from minority ethnic backgrounds, people living with disabilities and a number of other social groups are also underrepresented in the sector.
Unless we change the current way of doing things, support initiatives that promote inclusion and celebrate diversity and equality every day of the year, we will struggle to see the sector become more diverse.
A workforce and built environment fit for the future
To accelerate the pace of change, we need people from underrepresented groups to be joining, staying and advancing into senior and decision-making roles in the sector at a much higher rate than they currently are.
The lack of diversity in the sector poses a problem for a number of reasons – not only is it unjust and excluding a large proportion of the population from meaningful career opportunities, but the sector is also about to be central to the response to some of society’s toughest challenges over the next 200 years. To ensure that we are able to overcome these challenges in a way that is innovative and benefits everyone, we need to ensure that our workforce is representative of the people that will be living and working in our future built environment.
Women and people from underrepresented groups need to be visible at every level of the construction and built environment sectors – from site to the board room and across the entire supply chain. And making sure this happens, requires a lot more than the annual platform that International Women’s Day offers.
Accelerating change at BE-ST
BE-ST is committed to helping the construction sector embed mechanisms for including women and underrepresented groups. Our programmes like Low Carbon Learning Next Gen are designed to inspire young people interested in the built environment through a series of free workshops, while DIveIN delivers free equality, diversity and inclusion resources, toolkits, case studies and events for businesses and organisations to access.
Supported by BE-ST, the Construction Leadership Forum has also launched its National Construction Equity and Inclusion Plan. Funded by Scottish Government, the plan seeks to widen access to careers in the sector by mainstreaming equity and inclusion.
Since the plan launched, we’ve supported the roll-out of a 12-month programme promoting best practice in equity and inclusion in the sector and fed into the creation of the CLF data dashboard which offers real-time data for continuously benchmarking where we are with gender equality.
What are you going to do?
Make a difference and accelerate your diversity, equity and inclusion journey, by taking advantage of BE-ST’s free resources available on our website as part of our DIveIN programme, or share what you’re doing with us so we can inspire others.
Get the tools and skills you need to enhance your diversity and inclusion. Explore our series of workshops, discussion forums and virtual events focusing on raising awareness and sharing best practice from organisations large and small.