Diversity and data: a headache the built environment needs to address

Posted on: 10 June, 2024

It’s not just outdated stereotypes and mindsets that hold back equality, diversity and inclusion in the built environment – it’s also how businesses are able to capture and use data to monitor improvements.

While the built environment is diverse and made up of a range of different industries there continues to be a lack of representation within each industry and at every level.

In the UK, women make up just 15% of the construction workforce. Of those, a mere 2% actually work onsite. Not only that, but Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups make up just 6% of the workforce and the same figure applies to those with a disability.

UCEM have launched the Be Part of the Change campaign, which aims to celebrate and share success stories of students, alumni, staff and professionals from underrepresented backgrounds that have pursued a career in the sector.

Visit the Be Part of the Change site >

By highlighting the positive practices and steps our employers are taking, we hope to inspire other companies to do the same. We also hope to raise awareness of under-representation across the industry.

When it comes to diversity in the built environment, there are some common issues around awareness, stereotypes and poor collaboration. However, at January’s INSPIRE EDI conference, hosted by UCEM, collecting and using diversity data was identified as one of the biggest hurdles the industry is facing right now.

Read the report and recommendations in full: ‘Joined up leadership for an inclusive built environment’ report is available now.

Why data is holding diversity back

So why exactly is data collection proving to be such a challenge for diversity in the built environment?

From construction and engineering to project management and real estate, there are some key barriers to collecting and using data for diversity initiatives, and these include:

1. Lack of standardisation

There’s a lack of standardised frameworks and metrics for measuring diversity and inclusion across the various industries and specialisms within the built environment. This can lead to a fragmented approach to diversity data, with both how it is collected and analysed, making it far more challenging to compare data across different industries, organisations or contexts.

2. Data privacy concerns

Collecting demographic data of this nature raises several concerns about privacy, especially from individuals who fear their information could be misused or lead to discrimination in some way. In fact, a recent study revealed that two-thirds (65%) of neurodivergent employees fear that disclosing their neurodivergence could lead to discrimination from management.

Ensuring data privacy and confidentiality is crucial for building trust amongst employees or participants and enabling effective data collection. Workers that take part need a guarantee that their information is in safe hands and that all data protection regulations are being met.

3. Legal and compliance issues

It’s not just the individual participants that are struggling with privacy issues either – organisations must ensure they navigate all legal and regulatory requirements related to data collection, privacy, and non-discrimination laws when implementing diversity initiatives.

Failure to comply with these rules and regulations can lead to legal consequences, fines and damage to their reputation. This is why so many are reluctant to even begin collecting and analysing diversity data in the first place.

4. Data quality and availability

Another issue is that data related to diversity may be incomplete, inaccurate or not collected systematically.

For instance, information from certain demographics may not be as readily available or may be completely underreported. It may also be harder to obtain in the future. This can impact the quality of data being collected, as well as the availability of important facts and figures.

5. The complexity of intersectionality

Just as there’s a lack of standardised frameworks around diversity, intersectionality is also very complex and, arguably, doesn’t have its own standard framework.

Diversity encompasses a huge variety of factors, including race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and more. As a result, it can be challenging to collect data that accurately captures the intersectionality of all these different individual identities and experiences.

6. Sampling and interpretation biases

Following on from this, there can be issues with sampling bias if the data collected doesn’t accurately represent the entire group, population or situation. This can lead to bias during the analysis stage.

For instance, if a certain group are underrepresented in a particular dataset, the conclusions drawn from that data may not accurately reflect that demographic. What’s more, even when sufficient amounts of data have been collected about a particular group, interpreting this without bias can still be difficult. The researchers or analysts involved in the project may unintentionally introduce biases during the analysis stage, impacting the accuracy and fairness of the findings.

7. A lack of resources

Collecting and analysing diversity data requires resources, including time, funding and expertise. Smaller organisations or those with limited resources may struggle to invest adequate resources into their data collection and analysis efforts.

8. Organisational culture and resistance

As well as concerns around privacy and regulations, some employees, leaders and stakeholders may be reluctant about sharing diversity-related data because they’re worried about discrimination, stigma or discussing sensitive topics. This is unsurprising, given that 60% of LGBTQ+ construction workers have experienced homophobia while at work.

In order to move diversity data forward and use this as a force for good, leaders in the built environment must foster a supportive environment where data collection is seen as essential, but also safe and encouraged.

Data is a headache, but we can’t make progress without it

It’s clear that there are some key issues with data collection that need to be addressed and for lots of organisations, this can feel like a real headache.

However, collecting data on diversity in the built environment can offer several key benefits and is absolutely vital for the future of the industry and its workforce. Here’s why:

Identifying gaps in representation

Diversity data can help the built environment identify the areas where there is a lack of representation amongst particular demographic groups. This will allow construction companies and leaders within the industry to address these gaps through diversity initiatives and targeted recruitment efforts, using facts and figures to strengthen their approach.

Providing access to a larger talent pool

Businesses in the built environment that actively promote diversity and inclusivity can attract a much broader range of candidates from different backgrounds. It demonstrates their commitment to these values, which can enhance the company’s reputation and employer branding.

This can then give them access to a bigger and better talent pool when recruiting, allowing companies to hire the best candidates regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity or other characteristics.

Attracting fresh new talent

The benefits of data collection don’t just stop at attracting those already in the industry.  Diversity data can support the education-to-employment pipeline too. By promoting diversity and inclusivity across the industry, a more diverse range of young people are likely to pursue this as a career. This could lead to an uptake in under-represented groups taking university courses, apprenticeships and other relevant industry qualifications in order to join the workforce. Eventually, this will result in an even bigger and more varied talent pool of qualified candidates for employers to choose from.

Learn more: How higher education can encourage and support more women into the built environment

Improving employee engagement and retention

By collecting and analysing data effectively, businesses can implement diversity initiatives based on the findings. This can lead to a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Not only does this foster a sense of belonging among employees from all backgrounds, but employees who feel valued and respected are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work.

By continuing to collect data on diversity within the workplace, companies can also track employee satisfaction and identify any areas for improvement, so they can continue to enhance employee wellbeing and retention rates.

Enhancing innovation and creativity

Diversity brings together individuals from different backgrounds who have different perspectives and life experiences. By collecting data on diversity, companies in the built environment can enhance innovation and creativity in design, problem-solving and project delivery. In fact, studies have revealed that companies with more than 30% women executives outperformed those with less female representation. Not only that but companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity also outperformed those in the fourth quartile by a staggering 36% when it came to profitability.

Improving decision making

Lastly, collecting diversity data provides helpful insights that can inform decision-making processes within businesses across the built environment.

By building a better understanding of the demographics within their existing workforce and actively seeking to make this more diverse, companies can make informed decisions about recruitment, training and promotion practices. They can also use these insights to take informed steps towards building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Final thoughts

It’s clear that there are lots of issues with collecting relevant data and this is slowing down diversity and progression in the built environment. But with so many able to benefit from these initiatives, diversity data collection is absolutely crucial for the future.

The sector-wide Diversity Survey, run by the Supply Chain Sustainability School, now enables cross­organisational and cross-industry benchmarking of EDI progress across agreed diversity metrics. This data can be used to monitor the effectiveness of EDI initiatives across different organisations. All businesses across the built environment sector can contribute to this important dataset.

It’s vital that businesses in the built environment are investing in data collection and doing all they can to reduce concerns, ensure privacy and remove bias. They must also invest in the ongoing evaluation and adjustment of diversity initiatives based on the insights provided by this data. This is the only way to ensure diversity and inclusivity in the built environment and encourage better representation across the workforce.

To find out more about the Be Part of the Change campaign and get involved, visit the homepage. If you’d like to get in touch with our Student Ambassadors for EDI, email outreachandinclusion@ucem.ac.uk

Visit the Be Part of the Change site >