Coalition of leading construction firms aims to make industry less straight, white and male

This is a side by side image of two female presenting people in the construction industry. On the left is a Black female presenting person wearing a hard had, hi-vis vest and safety harness. On the right is a white woman wearing a brown bandana. They are crouching and holding a hammer.

To mark National Inclusion Week (25 September-1 October), 11 organisations in the construction industry have launched a new coalition aiming to tackle a lack of diversity across the sector and promote inclusion.

When people think of diverse and inclusive workplaces, the construction industry might not be the first that springs to mind. From outside the sector as well as within, the industry has long been seen as predominantly white, male and straight.

In an effort to make the sector more inclusive, the Construction Inclusion Coalition (CIC) has been established by chief executives at leading firms including Toolstation, Wavin, Wolseley and the National Merchant Buying Society. This new coalition representing over 250,000 construction workers throughout the UK aims to raise sector standards on diversity and inclusion (D&I) and will have an immediate focus on gender representation in its first year.

The CIC is launching alongside new polling that shows only 33 per cent of British people would feel confident that their female family or friends would be safe and respected if they joined the construction industry.

The research also highlights that 46 per cent of people would be more likely to actively seek out employment opportunities in the industry if it demonstrated a stronger commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

The coalition has been endorsed by the Construction Leadership Council, the leading body which draws together business leaders from across the construction sector and links them with the UK government.

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Commenting on the CIC’s launch, chairperson and Toolstation managing director Angela Rushforth says: “There is no doubt that the future of our industry is at risk if we don’t create an environment where all our colleagues feel safe, empowered and confident.

“I want all young women to see the construction sector as I do, full of opportunity.”

Construction has an ageing and predominantly male workforce

With one of the most rapidly ageing workforces in the UK, the construction industry is set to see nearly a third of its current workforce retiring in the next 10 years. Moreover, research from the ONS shows that women and ethnic minorities are woefully underrepresented in construction, making up only 10 and 6 per cent of the sector’s workforce, respectively. 

LGBTQ+ construction workers are also significantly underrepresented. In a survey of 24,000 workers conducted by the Construction Leadership Council, only one per cent identified as bisexual, and less than one per cent identified themselves as gay or lesbian.

This lack of diversity poses a serious challenge to the industry’s ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent.

“We aren’t attracting and retaining from a diverse pool of talent, because many think the construction sector is not for them,” says Rushforth.

“These are industry-wide challenges that require industry-wide solutions.”

A ‘game changer’ for the industry

For Sam Grierson, a customer proposition director at Wolseley, the formation of the coalition is “truly a landmark” moment.

As a gay and neurodivergent woman with over 20 years of experience in the industry, she thinks it is fantastic that the whole sector will work together “to promote inclusion and being our ‘whole’ selves at work.”

She continues: “This certainly wasn’t the case when I began my career and did not feel super comfortable being out and sharing stories of my wife and children for fear of being judged, labelled and overlooked.”

Daniela Gould, marketing director for northern and western Europe at Wavin, also agrees that the CIC is a “game changer”.

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I strongly believe that the Coalition will help to gradually transform the sector, into one where everyone from our community feels safe, supported, able to be their authentic self at work every day, and able to progress their career.”