Diversity and inclusion is on the agenda of every board and leadership team across the country, but the engineering and construction sector has the most work to do, particularly from a gender diversity perspective.

As with any new item on the agenda, there is confusion, ambiguity and a lack of commitment until it becomes a commercial requirement. Think, for instance, about when safety became a critical commercial metric during a tender process and organisations were forced to invest in safety management.

Rather than dive in to the issues, challenges and potential solutions, it is important to sit back and consider the “why.” Why is it important for our business? Why the focus now? Why do I need to invest in this? Once you have a solid understanding about why you are doing something, we can move to the “how.”

Here are some of the top reasons to consider increasing diversity in your workforce:

  • organisations with a higher than average number of females leaders/board members have higher profitability (by 15 to 20 per cent) than their less diverse competitors.
  • reduction in turnover – a more inclusive workforce tends to be a more stable workforce.
  • reflecting your clients – most organisations work with a diverse client base, and having a diverse workforce ensures you connect with your clients in a more meaningful way.
  • diversity of thought – organisations are more likely to find new ways to complete tasks as diversity brings new ideas, improvements and fresh perspectives.

Ignoring or not including 50 per cent of the population seems like an unusual talent acquisition strategy, particularly when you consider that females are outperforming males through school and university. So why have they not made it into the engineering and construction world?

Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of resistance felt around the topic of diversity and inclusion, particularly in the engineering and construction environment.

Here are three of the common objections and concerns relating to diversity and inclusion, along with why they are not relevant or valid issues:

First, there is the belief that, as more women are being educated and staying in the workforce, the gender gap will all fix itself organically. According to the latest research, however, it is estimated that gender parity will not be reached until 2138 unless there is intervention and positive action taken.

Second, some complain of “positive discrimination” arguing that promotions, board appointments and recruitment should be based on merit not gender. It is impossible to believe that women continually lose out on opportunities due to a lack of capability or capacity. It is due to unconscious bias, gender assumptions and stereotypes, and because people tend to hire people they like/would be friends with/relate to on a personal level. This is harder to achieve across genders, particularly in a culture which has ingrained gender stereotypes.

Third, some simply say “it’s my team, so it’s my decision about who I hire/promote.” In this case, the individual doesn’t understand the importance from an organisational perspective (the “why.”)

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is generally ingrained through social conditioning. To test your unconscious bias, click here – you may be surprised by the results. I have a slight bias in favour of women whereas most men will have a slight bias toward men, but it is fascinating to see the results and a very worthwhile exercise to do with your business to make people aware of their natural biases.

Once you start to invest in your diversity strategy, it is important to include all of your employees in the conversation to ensure that current employees are comfortable as to why this is an important focus to the business.