Anjali Pindoria, at the Russell Hotel project in London (Morley Von Sternberg, for NAWIC Image of Women in Construction Project)
Ahead of the UN’s International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Anjali Pindoria looks at construction’s record at employing people with BAME backgrounds.
Only 6% of the 2.3 million people employed in UK construction are from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, according to Government data.
This begs the questions – ahead of the UN’s International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March – are we a discriminatory industry?
The flag for female entrants is flying higher than ever, but the encouragement for BAMEs in construction seems to be low. If we are to overcome the mountain of diversity, we need to quickly rethink our strategy and approach.
The statistics show we are far from inclusive when it comes to the topic about race and this could give the perception that the industry is not welcoming. I was shocked when compiling research recently with over a hundred sixth form students, finding that society is still concerned that their ethnicity will be a barrier in their careers. The key findings were:
- 73% of students believed BAMEs will suffer prejudice in a workplace.
- 65% of students believed BAMEs are open to less career opportunities.
- More than half of the students believed BAMEs must work harder to prove themselves.
- More than half of the students believed their race or religion or gender will hold them back in their career.
My research emphasises the strain and pressure that young people are psychologically feeling, at a stage when they are contemplating their futures.
Research by The Economist supports this, finding that 13- to 17-year-olds are most concerned about anxiety, depression and bullying. Emotional intelligence of the youth is increasing, which means their identity is key to decision making. If they feel something is not inclusive, they are less likely to participate. Hence, identity and culture are crucial to the next generation feeling welcomed by employees. As an industry we need to make our stance wider, creating strategies to influence effectively.
Influence stems from the core, the home. Culturally BAME families do not envisage their children working in construction due to the stereotypical image of construction. Top ranked words that students had used to describe construction within my research were dirty, manual work and low pay, which all negatively portray the industry. In an era of breaking stereotypes, as an industry we need to understand the cultures and traditions within society to ensure we allow prospective entrants to feel they have a place within construction.
What can we do as an industry? We cannot just assume that by filling quotas we will become diverse. The BAME population is significantly under-represented in construction. We need to start making small changes to allow greater diversity. These include:
- Understand the different cultures emerging and appreciate personal duties held by individuals.
- Review our attitudes to other cultural events in the calendar, for example, are companies celebrating Diwali or Hanukkah within the workplace?
- Interact with schools, including the teachers and parents, to showcase modern construction. Explain that we want to be more inclusive for BAMEs but the stereotypes can only be abolished if we are bold enough to start the change now.
But the largest change needs to be industry-wide training. Larger companies provide mandatory training, to educate their staff on how to act, speak and behave, but there is a lack of support for SMEs. Construction sites need to increase cultural awareness and be educated that ‘site banter’ and crude language is a way of the past.
If the construction industry wants to empower diversity, the words need to be more than a mantra. Minority groups within construction, whether BAMEs or females, need to be valued, and most importantly, respected for their identities.
Anjali Pindoria is a project surveyor with Avi Contracts. She is a committee member of the London Novus Group, and as a Yeoman for the Worshipful Company of Constructors she sits on the Youth and Diversity Committees, as well as being a BAME representative and Education Ambassador for NAWIC LDN & SE.