09/02/2018 – Building Equality; LGBT in Construction

 

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last week, Stonewall’s top 100 LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender)-inclusive employers index was announced and for the 10th year running, not one construction firm featured.

It was disappointing to hear as I think we’ve came on leaps and bounds in the past 12 months with more contractors setting up their own LGBT networks. Around 500 employees from companies including Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier and Laing O’Rourke marched together at London Pride in 2017 under the LGBT network group #BuildingEquality.

Going forward we need to be encouraging the industry to be better represented on the index. LGBT workers exist across all industries and construction is no different. According to research released by Public Health England in 2017, around 2.5% of the UK population openly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other, meaning there could be at least 50,000 LGBT+ people working in the industry.

Last week, Construction News published its annual LGBT+ construction survey and the results weren’t as positive as I’d have hoped. It revealed that large proportions of the workforce felt uncomfortable, hindered or ostracised because of their sexuality or gender. Over half (56%) of respondents aren’t comfortable being open about their sexuality or gender. The figure is down on last years (69%) but for me it’s still too high, that’s still more than half of the workforce asked!

It’s common sense that people perform better when they can be themselves. Research has shown that making the workplace more inclusive for LGBT employees brings business benefits including: better job satisfaction and productivity among staff, better staff retention, more choice when recruiting new staff and an overall improved reputation – why wouldn’t you want that for your business?

The sad news is, that homophobia still seems to be an issue in the industry. The survey results found that 59% of respondents had heard ‘gay’ being used as an insult in work and 28% of LGBT+ respondents have had an offensive or inappropriate comment made about their gender or sexuality in the workplace over the past year. Again, down on last year’s results (33%) but it’s still too high for me. Yes, we’re making progress, but it’s very slow progress.

There are so many people working in the industry, it’s understandably going to be difficult, if not impossible, to change’s everyone’s outlook. What we need to do is make sure there are policies in place to prevent homophobic comments being made, and that’s hopefully how we’ll start to turn things around for the industry.

Two-thirds of LGBT+ respondents also believed their sexuality or gender was hindering their career progression, which should not be the case. To be anywhere near reaching the targets set by Construction 2025, we need to be encouraging the entire talent pool and not excluding potential candidates, for any reason. We need diversity in gender, age, ethnicity, values, experience and behaviours.

Maybe we need to show our support in the North East for our LGBT colleagues by joining under the #BuildingEquality banner at Northern Pride 2018 on the 21 July in Newcastle. Let us know if you want to join us.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk