Responsibility: benefits of a diverse workplace

Addressing the race issue

15 January 2020

‘As the benefits of a diverse workplace have been researched and proven, why are we still not addressing the race issue?’

Two years ago, the government published Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith review, in which Baroness McGregor-Smith stated: ‘in the UK today, there is a structural, historical bias that favours certain individuals … organisations and individuals tend to hire in their own image, whether consciously or not’.

This seems to be particularly true in the construction industry – the report revealed that the majority of management positions in the construction sector are held by white people. These findings are also echoed in Building magazine’s April 2019 diversity survey, which noted that just 4% of workers in the UK construction industry are from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. It also found that:

  • 58% of black construction professionals do not feel secure in their jobs, compared with 41% of white construction professionals; and
  • 76% of black construction professionals felt their chance of finding a job was lower because of their ethnicity.

The benefits of a diverse workplace have been researched, identified and proven. They include improved team performance, an easier hiring and retention process, greater creativity, a better understanding of customers and an improved brand. So if this is the case, why are we still not addressing the race issue?

One of the reasons, perhaps, is a lack of recognition. The fact that the racism experienced today isn’t always as overt as it has been in the past can mean it’s easier to ignore. That’s not to say that overt racism is not present in our society – it undoubtedly still occurs, and must be severely reprimanded when it does.

Another reason could be that equality and diversity are now too often dismissed as political correctness, or just box-ticking exercises. Professionals can view hiring a diverse workforce as an obligation to fill a quota. There are also those who insist that all decisions should be merit-based and that employees are recruited based on their achievements alone, disregarding race, gender or any of the other 7 protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

It is a simple fact, and a human right, that everyone should be given the same opportunities, regardless of protected characteristics.

In a perfect world, hiring on merit would be the ideal scenario but, unfortunately, not everyone has been given an equal platform to achieve this merit.

Systemic racism is one of 3 types of racism identified by social psychologist Prof. James M. Jones and refers to institutional systemic policies, practices and economic and political structures that disadvantage racial and ethnic groups.

In her report, Baroness McGregor-Smith stated that BAME people are affected throughout their career. They face a lack of role models, and are more likely to perceive the workplace as hostile, less likely to apply for and be offered promotions, and more likely to be judged harshly.

It is a simple fact, and a human right, that everyone should be given the same opportunities, regardless of protected characteristics. It is also one of the 5 RICS ethical standards to which chartered surveyors must adhere: ‘Treat others with respect. Never discriminate against anyone for whatever reason. Always ensure that issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, size, religion, country of origin or disability have no place in the way you deal with other people or do business.’

The Building magazine survey found a severe lack of trust in leaders to identify the need for, and effect, greater diversity within their organisation. Change, however, is most effective when it occurs at all levels – top-down and bottom-up – and those with influence in particular need to be aware of their leverage to shape this change.

In October, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands celebrate Black History Month, while the USA and Canada do so in February. Yet it should not be just 1 month a year when we celebrate black achievers and remember our responsibility. A more diverse construction industry, which will benefit us all, must be considered at all times.

Bola Abisogun OBE FRICS is the founder and CEO of Urbanis, and the founder and chair of DiverseCity Surveyors, the first RICS BAME network offering support and training to BAME RICS-accredited surveyors

Further information

Related competencies include: Diversity, inclusion and teamworking

This feature is taken from the RICS Built Environment Journal (November/December 2019)

Related categories include: Construction; Ethics and professional conduct