Championing a diverse and inclusive sector

This week marks the celebration of Women in Construction Week, where the entire construction industry comes together to highlight the contributions that women have made to the sector. It’s also the perfect opportunity to showcase some of the fantastic achievements that our three partners have accomplished to champion women in the workplace and their ongoing initiatives to increase inclusivity as an expectation of projects and communities that are impacted by construction.

It’s a little-known fact that women make up only 14% of the construction industry, but that number is growing. More than one third of new entrants into the sector from higher education are now women and our partners have been at the forefront of championing this new uptake.

Improving access

VolkerFitzpatrick is a platinum member of Women into Construction – a body that emerged back in 2008. It is an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in construction. They provide bespoke support to women wishing to work in the construction industry, and assist contractors in recruiting highly motivated, trained women, helping to reduce skills gaps and create a more gender-equal workforce.

Naomi Connell, chief finance officer at VolkerWessels UK who was recognised in 2019 as one of the 100 most influential women in the engineering sector by Inclusive Boards in partnership with the Financial Times commented that “we understand that a diverse workforce is key to the future of our business and we are totally committed to ensuring that we offer an inclusive environment for our teams and for all those we work with”.

In October 2021, VolkerFitzpatrick also formed part of a JV that received the Social Inclusion Award at the Women in Rail awards for its work on the Barking Riverside Extension project – no small feat. In December 2021, VolkerFitzpatrick held an internal feedback session with new female employees to gain insight into their experiences to help shape its updated EDI Strategy, which was published in March 2002.

Creating inclusive workplaces

Launched in 2020, Sir Robert McAlpine’s ‘Beyond 1%’ podcast highlights the real experiences of women in construction to empower and encourage more young women into the industry. Since 2019, SRM has been supporting Flex Appeal launched by campaigner Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka, to make flexible working available to everyone from day one, thus supporting improved work life balance as well as greater inclusion and diversity.

VolkerFitzpatrick and Sir Robert McAlpine recently signed the “Inspiring Women in Construction” pledge, launched by Construction News, which commits organisations to strive for a more inclusive industry, improve business environments for women and champion equal representation on boards.

Sir Robert McAlpine’s Executive Director of People and Infrastructure, Karen Brookes, commented that “we are proud to sign the Inspiring Women in Construction pledge and contribute to addressing gender inequality in the industry. Sir Robert McAlpine is committed to driving a truly inclusive culture that welcomes everyone and promotes greater diversity”.

By signing the pledge, VolkerFitzpatrick and SRM have committed to: Attract, develop, and promote more women in its company and in the construction industry; Close its Gender Pay Gap; Champion and recognise the achievements of women; Work collaboratively to create an environment that welcomes and helps retain women employees at all levels of its organisation.

Sharing best practice

WSP is committed to ensuring all of its employees have the same access to opportunities and feel part of a diverse and inclusive culture. As such, it has formed the Gender Balance Committee which provides employees with a channel to discuss gender issues, learn and share best practice and ensure that gender needs are reflected in WSP UK strategies.

To help achieve those aims, the Committee is pleased to support initiatives such as International Women’s Day, International Women in Engineering Day, Women in Construction, Women in Transport and the WISE 10 Steps Framework. WSP is also committed to thorough and rigorous reporting to address and close the Gender Pay Gap and is a WhereWomenWork verified ‘Prime Employer’.

WSP’s UK Director of Government Relations and Corporate Responsibility, Rachel Skinner also leads the government’s Transport Employment and Skills Taskforce (TEST), which aims to identify the skills needed to boost the UK’s future transport workforce.

Speaking about the taskforce and the value of diversity, Rachel has previously stated that “it is well-known that a more diverse and inclusive workforce increases creativity, collaboration and productivity, and I’m excited to use my experience to ensure people from underrepresented groups can build brilliant careers in transport”.

Enhancing public engagement

On the importance of gender diversity for effective public engagement in the construction sector, Unity’s Stakeholder Manager, Fiona Woolston said “I’ve built public advocacy for some of the country’s major construction projects and seen time and time again the incredible value of a diverse workforce in achieving that. Communities neighbouring construction projects vary wildly, and we need a workforce that reflects that diversity to build public trust and confidence in the people delivering the schemes impacting them.

To ensure communities feel that developments are happening for them, and not to them, we need teams that reflect who they are, which includes people who understand first-hand – from multiple perspectives – the many things that a community may need or be concerned about – increasing construction’s gender diversity is one important way we can build teams with thorough social awareness”. 

Doing things differently

Whilst we are well on our way to gender parity across the sector, and society, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go. Unity stands with its partner organisations in promoting women role models in the sector and will build on the strong foundations that they have already established. Through our partners established commitments to inclusivity and EDI, at Unity we understand how to provide a supportive and welcoming workplace that thrives from diversity and recruits based on talent, skills, and achievements.