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LGBT: Are we close to a tipping point?

Lucy Alderson

We may be barely a month into 2018, but already this is shaping up to be a pivotal year for LGBT+ within the construction industry.

At the heart of this momentum has been the eye-opening data CN has reported.

A fortnight ago we published the results of our annual LGBT+ survey revealing the true picture of industry attitudes. The following week Stonewall released it annual top 100 LGBT-inclusive employers index, featuring not a single construction firm for the 10th year running.

According to research released by Public Health England in 2017, around 2.5 per cent of the UK population identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or other. That could mean that around 50,000 people working in our industry are LGBT+.

Yet significant portions of these construction workers continue to experience homophobia, are hindered in their career progression, or feel ostracised because of their sexuality or gender while at work.

Homophobia is still a major issue in construction, with 59 per cent of all respondents saying they had overheard ‘gay’ being used as an insult in the workplace.

Furthermore, around 28 per cent of LGBT+ respondents had experienced an offensive or inappropriate comment being made about their gender or sexuality in the workplace over the past year.

Many LGBT+ workers still feel uncomfortable disclosing their sexuality or gender for fear of negative reactions and repercussions. Just over half (54 per cent) of LGBT+ respondents did not feel comfortable being open about their sexuality or gender on site.

This pressure to conceal sexuality and gender could explain why just under a third of all LGBT+ survey respondents said working in construction had a negative impact on their mental health.

Gowling WLG senior associate Sarah Rock, who is also co-chair of LGBT network Offsite, points out keeping your sexuality or gender a secret will inevitably take its toll on your psychological wellbeing.

“If you are LGBT and you are not out, you are constantly checking what you are saying, which pronouns you are using and what information to leave out in conversation,” she says. “It must be exhausting.”

Another serious cause for concern was the finding that two-thirds of all LGBT+ respondents believed their sexuality or gender was hindering their career progression.

It’s clear more work needs to be done to address industry attitudes towards its LGBT+ workforce. But steps forward have been made, particularly by larger construction firms.

Over the past 12 months, more contractors have set up their own LGBT+ networks within their business and there were more construction workers than ever before marching for equality at the LGBT+ Pride march in London last July.

If this momentum can be maintained, the next 12 months could prove a tipping point for the industry.

As Arcadis COO Peter Madden observes: “We need to be having these conversations. Until we can actively demonstrate that our industry is truly inclusive – until everyone from every walk of life feels comfortable revealing their true identity at work – this will remain an issue.”

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