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Yes, this pay gap does actually matter

Lucy Alderson

“Different ethnic groups and genders do not volunteer themselves to join the construction industry in the same percentages as white males do.

“If [they] don’t want to get out on site and build things then you can’t really force them too – so please stop this endless crusade and start reporting on actual construction issues.”

This was one comment CN received about my feature this week looking into the industry’s ethnicity pay gap.

There are some issues worth discussing here.

Firstly, a valid point has been made. There is indeed a lack of both women and ethnic minorities entering construction.

BEIS data released in 2017 showed the sector’s workforce had the highest proportion of white people of any UK industry, and the latest ONS statistics show just 13 per cent or so of the workforce is female.

It is probably safe to assume then that, at present, construction is not the career of choice if you are a woman and/or from a minority background.

So this CN reader makes a fair observation: it does appear on the face of it that women and ethnic minorities don’t “want to get out on site and build things”.

However, this misses two important points: why don’t women and people from BAME backgrounds want to enter this environment – and why should we care?

There’s no doubt the industry needs to market itself better.

If the public continues to see only an industry that looks staid, homogeneous and stuck in its ways, other industries (such as tech) will hoover up skilled millenial graduates looking to work for diverse, forward-thinking companies.

At the same time, it may soon become a requirement to report on your company’s ethnicity pay gap.

In October this year, the government launched a consultation asking companies for their views on how ethnicity pay gap reporting should be approached. 

The consultation closes in January, after which businesses will have a clearer picture of what information they could be asked to publish.

Yet CN’s research into the issue suggests this pay gap is not on the industry’s radar.

When we asked the UK’s 20 largest contractors by turnover whether there was an ethnicity pay gap in their business, not one was able to provide a figure. 

And according to one director at a top-20 contractor, speaking to CN anonymously, the ethnicity pay gap could be even wider than that for gender – in which area construction was revealed as the worst-performing industry earlier this year.

Addressing ethnic diversity can also help you win work.

There is an emerging trend in the procurement process: companies are being asked to outline what they are doing to increase diversity, and are then graded on their responses.

In a highly competitive market, ignoring diversity could be to the detriment of your pipeline.

So my response to that comment is: we do report on actual construction issues, and ethnic diversity is certainly one of them.

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