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True diversity in construction will make the difference

I read the article on cnplus on 7 January that stated that a large proportion of top contractors were quoted claiming that they employ “sufficient numbers of women and people from ethnically diverse backgrounds” with interest. 

That is absolutely not the position at Bouygues UK. There is much more we need to do and I believe that if many of our industry peers were honest with themselves they would agree.

If one discounts personal assistants, administrative and secretarial staff (as we feel including these would disproportionately skew the results) do we really employ satisfactory numbers of women?

The same goes for ethnic minorities. What figures would we get if we discounted those on site and only took into account our engineers, quantity surveyors and other technical staff? Would we really have a sufficient number of ethnic minorities?

No complacency

Our construction industry is still woefully behind in terms of diverse representation in the workforce, as patently evidenced by the statistics.

We should not become complacent, but continue treading the necessary path to a more a diverse working environment.

The unspoken and delicate problem with the diversity debate is the perception of political correctness that often accompanies it.

And yet talk of arbitrary targets in relation to diversity distracts us from the real issue at hand: that we are constraining our progress by not tapping into an important pool of talent, especially at a time of skills shortages in the construction industry.

“The over-riding point is that we should continue to transform our industry’s image from that of the ‘builder’ to a people-centric one”

At Bouygues UK, since we have had more women in frontline construction and management roles, there has been a noticeable and a positive balancing of our teams’ skillsets.

Among my leadership teams, female managers often engage more effectively than their male counterparts in real conversation, a behavioural quality which has led to an improvement all-round in the way we have debates and challenge ourselves to improve – which is precisely what we need to do better in an industry centred on multi-stakeholder decision-making and negotiation.

Many of our female technical and design managers at Bouygues UK prove themselves time and again strong at working along ‘multi-thought lines’ while keeping a close and patient eye on detail; again, which of us – all too aware of the risks that complex projects bring to our businesses – can ignore these skills?

Image revolution

Are these skills unique to women? No. Are they unique to men? No.

The over-riding point is that we should continue to transform our industry’s image from that of the ‘builder’ to a people-centric one where a multitude of prestigious skills are in demand from clever people of all genders, race, colours and professional backgrounds.

Much of this argument also applies to better ethnic diversification within an industry whose projects touch every part of very diverse communities.

The better we understand, and not ‘think we understand’, our community stakeholders, the better we will perform.

“What is needed is a sea change across the construction industry as a whole. Things are improving but in 2015 they are not as they should be”

We need to diversify our teams not for the sake of arbitrary employment policies, but rather to optimise team performance to improve the quality and delivery of projects for our clients and the end-users.

What is needed is a sea change across the construction industry as a whole. Things are improving but in 2015 they are not as they should be.

We take collective responsibility for the make-up of our businesses and shining a light on our staffing will help to improve the overall picture from apprentice up to CEO.

Our people are our best asset and the contractors who corner the market on talent by looking into a diverse pool will continue to outperform.

I am committed to ensuring that Bouygues UK has a working environment which embraces diversity and I will change policy and the working environment to achieve this. 

I want to ensure we meet the needs of our people now and in the future and I challenge others to truly do the same.

Madani Sow is CEO and chairman of Bouygues UK

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