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How to break the deadlock on diversity

Leo Quinn

Our industry has a voracious appetite for skilled workers.

Because construction and infrastructure underpin both a functioning society and economic growth, they offer a tremendous range of roles in which people can build rewarding lifelong careers.

Yet we all know that the industry faces a skills shortage that is set to get worse over the next few years, not better.

This means we must improve how and where we seek talent. We simply cannot afford to rely on the same old approach, as that risks missing out on the diverse talent we need to help innovate and reinvent our industry for the 21st century. 

And diversity actually breeds success. We know that businesses with diverse workforces consistently do better than those without. To give us the best opportunity to find and retain those talented people, we need to create an inclusive environment where we consider people based on their capability and performance – and provide them with interesting and challenging opportunities.

Closing the skills gap means changing our ways to find, persuade and support highly capable people from all kinds of backgrounds to join the industry, removing the barriers that currently prevent this.

Asking the question

At The 5% Club, we recently asked our members the question: ‘How can we break this deadlock – and quickly?’

What we heard was amazingly consistent. Many employers placed diversity as a priority in their business but didn’t have specific strategies in place. Where they did have a strategy, improvement in diversity was too slow.

So we decided to publish our findings and use them to produce a series of recommendations:

  • If we are to make training opportunities attractive to people from all backgrounds, we need to take a joined-up approach. By that I mean the government, business heads and industry sectors all coming together to make change happen at pace.
  • The government should use the levers it has available. It must provide balanced careers advice, educating teachers, young people and parents about the range of training opportunities available in our industry, as well as encouraging young people, especially young women, to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).
  • Crucially, government must also use its role as a major procurer of goods and services to bring about greater diversity among its own suppliers.

While individual employers can only do so much on their own, the buck for diversity ultimately stops with us: the UK’s job-creators. So how can we make a difference in the construction industry?

What your business can do

It starts with the status quo: business heads must be responsible for collecting better data and mapping their processes to understand where we fall short and where improvements can be made.

“Every business should have concrete plans to make its workplace and cultures welcoming to people from different backgrounds”

It needs leadership: CEOs and boards must take ownership of diversity and inclusion strategies.

It needs imagination: we need to think outside the box, shaking up traditional HR approaches all the way from how we recruit to introducing ‘blind CVs’ where taking out details like name, gender and education can remove bias.

And it needs consistency: every business should have concrete plans to make its workplace and cultures welcoming to people from different backgrounds – right through our supply chains.

If we can pull together in a strategic, co-ordinated way, we can deliver change and offer brilliant careers to the best people we can find. And in doing so, we can solve one of the key limits to our own industry.

Leo Quinn is group chief executive of Balfour Beatty and founder of The 5% Club

To find out more information on how to #BreakTheDeadlock, read The 5% Club’s latest report here.Visit for more information

Readers' comments (1)

  • Fine words from a man who leads an all male board !

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