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Diversity and inclusion in construction and engineering: listen up, save a life

Category: Women in Construction, Female Initiatives

Diversity and inclusion in construction and engineering

Opinion from Dr Mark McBride-Wright, Founder & Managing Director of EqualEngineers

Suicide rates for men working in the construction industry are more than three times the national average. What’s behind that?  For me, inclusivity in the workplace is a health and safety issue. Not being able to be open about who you are, because of attitudes and lack of diversity around you can lead to mental health issues and decreased wellbeing. More needs to be done to encourage employers to go much further than token inclusion policies.  Lives could depend on it.

On September 7 2018, EqualEngineers will bring together network leaders, diversity & inclusion experts, HR professionals and executive sponsors for the inaugural Equality in Engineering Conference in Manchester. This event aims to equip, inform and inspire attendees towards greater diversity and increased inclusivity in the traditionally white-male industries of engineering and technology. The conference, organised in partnership with Siemens and the Institution of Engineering and Technology, features workshops and panel discussions on topics ranging from the current ‘state of the nation’ to addressing hidden minorities, intersectionality, setting up national networks and maintaining momentum.

As Founder & Managing Director of EqualEngineers, I believe creating an inclusive culture is analogous to creating a safety-conscious culture.  Our industry has invested a lot of time, money and effort raising awareness where people are comfortable with calling out unsafe acts, the intent being to avoid a major accident hazard happening. Here we can draw similarities for creating an inclusive culture for everyone; people can call-out non-inclusive language and challenge negative behaviours - empowerment. It is also critically important that men need to find their voice in the diversity conversation. And other men need to listen.

The culture change programme of the last 20 years has been successful. Accident rates are going down. But those rates are plateauing. We now need to look at creating interdependent teams, where people look out for each other and really focus on developing a high-performing organisation. This is an aspiration that companies have, but when you go on the ground at a construction site or manufacturing site, is thisreallythe lived experience of a person from a minority group on the shop floor? No, it’s not.

When the alarmingly high data on suicide rates was published, Public Health England chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said, “People who die from suicide are usually not in contact with health services, and often push through in silence as their ability to cope deteriorates. With more than two-thirds of adults in employment, the workplace offers an opportunity to reach people who need extra support.”

“I urge all employers, large or small, public or private sector to treat mental health as seriously as physical health. Early action can stop any employees reaching a desperate stage. Simple actions can make a huge difference – talking with a manager or colleague can help people get the support they need, and ultimately save lives.”  

In manufacturing, if we’ve got a quality problem, we’ll deal with that very quickly. We make it a business imperative to improve that. Right now, diversity and inclusion is a fluffy, on the side, nice-to-have but it’s not getting absorbed into the culture of the way business is done. When people don’t understand the benefits of inclusion for business, and when they don’t see themselves as part of that movement or it relevant to them, then they roll their eyes and think it’s just another ‘thing’ they have to do. 

The key is not to create additional work for people which becomes burdensome. Instead, the preference is to tweak the things we already do, the processes we have etc. Building inclusion into business strategy, and this needs inclusive leaders and managers to make the case for change, and implement. When they do this, they need to be introspective and open to challenge on things that are just fundamentally not working. Ask questions. Be ready to be questioned. Speak up for your workforce. Give them the space to speak up for themselves.  

About the conference

Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens will give the keynote speech, alongside other speakers such as:

  • Simone Davina – Executive Sponsor Diversity & Inclusion, Head of Legal at Siemens plc
  • Nike Folayan – Association for BME Engineers
  • Elizabeth Rickard - Senior Member of the Women’s Engineering Society
  • Victor Olisa QPM – Former Head of Diversity & Inclusion at the Metropolitan Police
  • David Pearson – Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion at KPMG
  • Rob Cookson – Deputy CEO, LGBT Foundation
  • Joscelyne Shaw, Executive Director, Mates in Mind & British Safety Council
  • Fiona Jackson, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Employer Branding, EDF Energy

The conference takes place 7thSeptember at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester Hotel in Manchester. For more information and to book your ticket go to www.equalengineers.com/conference-2018.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email info@vercida.com for more information.

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