Consulting firms back #BuildingEquality for LGBT+ friendly construction sector

26 July 2017 5 min. read

50% of LGBT+ employees in the construction industry say they face homophobic or transphobic abuse. The #BuildingEquality network has called on industry leaders to develop the tools and practices to transform the business culture to reflect diversity and inclusion, with support from representatives of engineering and construction consultancies Arup, Arcadis and Mott MacDonald.

Negative associations of casual homophobia and anti-transgender bigotry continue to dog the construction world, with the clichés of cat calling and discrimination against LGBT+ individuals top public perceptions of the industry in particular. In recent years increased pressure from a range of voices groups has begun to pressure management to intervene and change attitudes within the industry has seen an inclusive culture increasingly fostered.

According to research from financial services company Credit Suisse, construction firms that took this route saw improved job satisfaction and productivity, access to a wider pool of talent, and improve the reputation of the industry and specific actors within the industry. Aside from a business case though, an inclusive culture improves wider social wellbeing, and means that companies are inherently compliant with various regulations pertaining to workplace discrimination.

One of the groups active in driving through cultural change in the construction sector is the LGBT+ Construction Working Group, known as #BuildingEquality. The group was founded in 2015, and provides representation and a voice for LGBT people in the construction industry, as well as sending representatives for the Group to various LGBT related events, such as this year’s Pride in London as well as to National Student Pride, a LGBT+ UK careers fair. Employees from engineering and consulting firms Mott MacDonald, Arup and Arcadis were among those representing #BuildingEquality attending this year’s Pride event.

Gary Coetzee, chair of #BuildingEquality, said, “Our industry has made progress, but still too many people feel unable to be themselves in the workplace. We need leaders to accept that homophobia remains a problem for employees and to speak out against it. Being at Pride in London gives us an important opportunity to talk about what we have achieved but, most importantly, what is still needed.”

 Consulting firms back #BuildingEquality for LGBT+ friendly construction sector

Many feel the consulting industry remains a hostile environment for LGBT+ people, with around 50% of LGBT+ construction workers stating they have heard a homophobic or transphobic insult in their industry in the past 12 months, with that figure rising to 60% under LGBT+ engineers. The continued prevalence has prompted #BuildingEquality to call on sector leaders to themselves come to the table to discuss homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and the value of diversity and inclusion (EDI) within their industry.

Mott MacDonald themselves announced plans to drive up diversity among its ranks in the UK earlier this year. Their EDI action plan for 2017-2018 will identify areas in which improvements can be made by its Advance Employee Network.

Commenting on Mott MacDonald’s commitment to transform their culture in favour of EDI within the firm and the wider industry, Manager Richard Chapman-Harris said, “All people perform better when they can be themselves. Ensuring LGBT+ inclusion is actively supported at work means better business. Knowing your colleagues and clients value your whole self is important for collaboration and innovation – key values to the engineering and construction industries. Mott MacDonald is proud to be joining the #BuildingEquality group again this year and look forward to further collaboration on EDI across the industry.”

Arcadis meanwhile have seen a dramatic improvement in their EDI since 2011, having moved up Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index by 159 places since then. The firm made inclusive HR and leadership practices a priority to achieve this, according to Barbra Carlisle, Arcadis' Diversity and Inclusion Lead, who arrived at the consultancy that year. "When I joined, Arcadis was not known as a LGBT+ friendly employer and we realised that because of this, we were missing out on an enormous amount of talent. The group has had successes already, including equality proofing our HR family friendly policies, and working with industry colleagues as part of the #BuildingEquality in Construction group."

Also part of the 350+ people representing #BuildingEquality at this year’s Pride march in London were staff from Arup. The firm have been committed in the long-term to promote diversity in the building sector, and were presented with a Star Performer Network Group award by Stonewall in 2014.

Zach Wilcox, Chair of Connect Out, Arup's campaign to diversify the building industry, said, "A diverse and inclusive workforce in the construction and engineering industry is important to create buildings and plan places for people from all walks of life who use them. #BuildingEquality is working to make sure that LGBT+ people can share their unique perspectives at work as well, so we are designing buildings and creating cities that reflect our diversity.”