“We need action now” was the key takeaway from ‘Overcoming Barriers’, the final Building Inclusivity roundtable of 2022 held on Thursday 6 October.
The online discussion, which featured industry leaders, emerging professionals, subject matter experts and members of Ethnic Minority communities, explored how we can create more inclusive workplaces.
EIC's director of people, skills and culture, Claire Clifford chaired the discussion which featured Farai Mwashita (CBRE) representing ACE's Emerging Professionals group. It will also explore best-practice with Melania Santoro (Arcadis), Kalisha Sejpar (Ramboll), Tony McCaffery (Diversity Scotland), Ian Heptonstall (Supply Chain Sustainability School), and Sharon Slinger (Constructing Rainbows).
Data and diversity
Ian Heptonstall of Supply Chain Sustainability School kicked off the session with some statistics from his research on diversity from across the construction industry. His figures outlined how different Ethnic Minorities are lost in the application process and the industry was struggling to attract applicants from Black communities.
Tony McCaffrey of Diversity Scotland asked us to understand the details behind these statistics – rather than overall diversity figures we need to understand what roles people have, whether they are decision-makers or work in management, and eventually we need to be able to understand year-on-year changes to track progress.
Can organisations lead by example?
Farai Mwashita of CBRE, and a representative of ACE's Emerging Professionals, asked us to take a step back and look at society more broadly, highlighting the importance of tackling gender equality from a very young age as it embeds inequal approaches to ED&I from the outset. Looking more closely at our industry, she stressed the significance of the make-up of our industry which is still very white, still very middle aged and still very male: “We’ve been having these conversations for the past ten years – we talk a lot, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of change…” She stressed the need for inclusive action – on recruitment and language – to make progress.
Kalisha Sejpar of Ramboll, shared her experiences of working in the industry and often being the only non-white woman in the room. Stressing the need for a two pronged approach for both individuals and institutions, she highlighted that both often felt more comfortable discussing gender inclusivity than race. Part of the solution lies in tackling unconscious bias and discrimination in recruitment and management processes: “We are not helping ourselves, organisations need to make that change in how we recruit.”
Sharon Slinger of Constructing Rainbows shared her experiences of working in this area, notably after the Black Lives Matter campaigns in 2020 which brought race to the fore. This resulted in a: “Flurry of statements but I’m sorry to say not much action… I’d love us really to see some of the organisations called out on it.” Some businesses have stepped up, and she called on all organisations to review their processes starting with recruitment – inclusive job descriptions, blind CVs, diverse hiring panels, asking existing members of staff about their own experiences, and pulling out as much of the bias from the process as possible.
Stamping out underlying racism:
While Tony McCaffrey agreed that improvement in process was incredibly important, he said that until society and our industry focuses on anti-racism, it would be almost meaningless: “Proactive, concerted, committed, dedicated, hard work, done by the dominant majority [is the only way to achieve this change]”.
Farai Mwashita stressed that there was a need to go beyond ‘BAME’ and break it down as there were some groups which were better represented than others. She said that if organisations were using it to feel comfortable and unwilling to drill down into the detail and break down the layers, then it was a problem.
Melania Santoro of Arcadis shared how non-black communities need to play an active role in the fight against racism and that as business leaders we need to tackle system and behavioural changes: “We need to transform into inclusive and diverse leadership, commit to Ethnic Minority targets and progression targets and co-create a tangible action plans.”
She stressed three points that businesses could do today to make immediate improvements:
1) Check your policies, audit your grievance process, are there safe spaces for communities to raise issues?
2) Provide unconscious bias training for hiring managers; and
3) Retain and most importantly elevate people of colour.
Take action now:
Sharon Slinger said: “Listen to Black and Asian colleagues to understand what it means for them to work in your organisation. Review your processes in light of their feedback.”
Tony McCaffrey said: “Audit your language – used effectively it can be a great tool for eradicating racism.”
Kalisha Sejpar: “Educate yourself on what privilege you have and have those uncomfortable conversations with your colleagues, friends and family. The more we have those conversations the more we can go from there.”
Melania Santoro: “We need to normalise the uncomfortable conversation and breakdown our own unconscious biases. We will need to be able to separate ourselves and our social context.”
Farai Mwashita: “It’s Black History Month and the theme is, it’s time for action. Let’s use our platforms, challenge our managers, go into our communities as we promised we would.”
Building Inclusivity is the ED&I campaign from EIC. Explore resources, commentary and articles and replay previous roundtables on Neurodiversity and LGBTQ+ communities at our online hub.