When we published a news story online on Tuesday under the headline ‘Sexist, racist and homophobic language common in the construction industry’, someone asked me if it was an April fool.
The sad thing is, it wasn’t a joke. Sadder still was that the person who asked me was joking himself - the idea that the industry wasn’t these things seemed laughable to him.
The story was based on a survey by the CITB into the language heard by people working in construction, revealing some terrible but sadly unsurprising statistics: over 60 per cent of those in construction have heard sexist language; 53 per cent racist, 48 per cent homophobic and 51 per cent ageist language in the past year.
Most of the respondents described what they’d heard as ‘banter’. Still not acceptable, of course, but less depressing than the third of women who reported having offensive language directed at them.
Only 4 per cent reported it to a manager - the same proportion, coincidentally, that said they had left a job because of it. Both those numbers are equally damning.
So is construction worse than other industries? More than a third of the people in the CITB’s survey thought so.
It’s hard to find evidence, as comparable data is difficult to come by. But that could be largely because in other industries it’s not deemed enough of a problem to bother carrying out a survey.
“These figures simply reinforce the widely held perception that construction is not a diverse industry and not an attractive place to work”
In some ways it doesn’t matter about other industries. To those already in construction on the receiving end of sexism, racism, homophobia and ageism, the knowledge that things are just as bad in some other industry does not make the day-to-day experience any more bearable.
For those outside the industry, these figures simply reinforce the widely held perception that construction is not a diverse industry and not an attractive place to work.
On the other hand, it’s only by laying the statistics bare that the scale of the problem becomes clear and - hopefully - construction firms will do something about it.
Last month Balfour Beatty announced it was out and proud - as a Stonewall diversity champion. This means it has made a commitment to work with the campaigning charity Stonewall to improve its workplaces for its lesbian, gay and bisexual staff.
This shouldn’t be big news, but it is. Only one other construction company - Kier - has signed up to the Stonewall initiative. A week later, Balfour Beatty became the first major contractor to support the government’s Disability Confident campaign.
Balfour Beatty is not doing this to show off its diversity credentials - rather, it is laying the ground to attract the best staff and run a better, more profitable business.
All construction firms must put diversity at the heart of their plans or be left in the dark ages.