UCEM conference proposes collaboration to foster built environment inclusivity

Posted on: 13 February, 2024

On Wednesday 31 January, leaders from across the built environment came together to discuss inclusivity and collaboration in a conference held by UCEM.

“Joined up leadership for an inclusive built environment” was the latest in UCEM’s INSPIRE series underscoring our commitment to INfluence, Skills, Productivity, Research and Education. Held in London, the event was supported by the Construction Leadership Council, Construction Inclusion Coalition, Construction Industry Council and Building People. The conference convened built environment leaders and change-makers striving to make the sector more inclusive, fair and respectful, including professional institutions, employers, campaign groups and educational institutions.

Across the event’s agenda, there was a particular focus on bringing together those involved in sector-wide EDI initiatives to support a strategic approach that avoids duplication of effort, encourages joined-up expert leadership and achieves a ‘one voice’ approach towards EDI strategy in the sector.

Innovative strategies and inclusive leadership: shaping the sector’s future

Marsha Ramroop, Executive Director of EDI at Building People, a hub aiming to create a centre for excellence in EDI in the Built Environment, kicked off the event with a clarion call, that the sector needed to realise that “inclusion isn’t about other people and their identities, it is about the sector and its behaviours”.

Alasdair Reisner, Culture Workstream Lead for the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), outlined how the  Council plans to develop a good practice guide for inclusion in the 2025 update of the sector’s most influential texts, The Construction Playbook. By embedding diversity in this guide to procurement of public works projects the plan is it will become the key source for defined standards across first larger contractors, before then spreading across the wider sector.

Next was Anthea Marris, Project Director of the recently formed Construction Inclusion Coalition who explained the Coalition’s ‘Built on Better’ pledge that Coalition members sign to address equity, diversity and inclusion within their organisations, which had been created when the Coalition identified that 46% of people say they would be more likely to look for jobs in the sector if it demonstrated a strong commitment to inclusion.

Attendees then learnt lessons on cooperative working from Sybil Taunton, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who was able to detail an example of successful collaboration in the sector, namely the joint-EDI efforts of six major professional bodies who had jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding and agreed a derived Action Plan to ensure the built environment professions are representative of the society they serve.

Dr Bola Abisogun OBE, recently conferred with an Honorary MBA from UCEM and serves as Chair of the Construction Industry Council’s EDI Committee, spoke next and stated the Committee’s support for the work of the six professional bodies.

The lineup of speakers was concluded by Misa von Tunzelman, a Board Member of Freehold LGBT, a forum for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender real estate professionals. Misa reflected on her career experiences as both a mixed race and bisexual professional in real estate, emphasising the need for more joined-up thinking over EDI spanning construction, property and built environment professions, arguing “the more we work together, whatever our specialism, the lighter the work will be”.

Panel discussion: diversity – a crisis, not a competition

There then followed a panel discussion, chaired by Amanda Clack, Regional CEO at HKA and a Former RICS President. Panellists delved into where and how the sector can work more cohesively on EDI.

Cathryn Greville, Head of Fairness, Inclusion & Respect, Action Sustainability, an expert in EDI data raised some encouraging recent data, telling the audience that women fare better in their job applications than men. On average, a woman looking for a position in the built environment will make 24.8 job applications per one successful hire, whereas this figure is 33 applications for a man.

Cathryn then explained that the sector was attractive to ethnic minority applicants but they cannot get in. 52.5% of applicants to built environment roles were from an ethnic minority, but their ‘success rate’ was far less favourable – 90 applications per one successful hire.

Dr Bola Abisogun OBE, fresh from speaking earlier in the day, acknowledged Cathryn’s point, saying he had only got so far in the sector by “learning to love rejection”.

Lydia McGuinness, CLC’s Young Ambassador for People & Skills, suggested that the need to diversify was “a crisis, not a competition,” and the sector should have a unified, cross-sector message promoting the diverse trailblazers already in the industry as if the sector spoke too much about its lack of diversity, it risked becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lydia felt there was a need for “fewer negative statistics and more positive stories, such of the numerous times throughout my career I’ve seen first-hand a group of diverse people from different backgrounds turn a drawing into a skyscraper”.

Angela Rushforth, Managing Director of Toolstation, who also oversees the Travis Perkins Group’s Diversity & Inclusion Network believed that a cross-sector focus should be both about why people join an organisation and why they might leave, as this understanding was key when driving positive culture change. Currently, the sector was welcoming to many, but not truly inclusive, with the situation for those from non-traditional backgrounds being akin to “being invited to the ball but not to dance.”

Collaborative pathways to more equitable workplaces

The event wrapped up with a group workshop session. Attendees, which included representatives from various organisations like Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska, Savills and Women in Property actively participated in exercises to garner their views as to how the sector can better collaborate in key areas such as EDI data collection, supporting those from non-traditional backgrounds in the transition from education to employment and how professional standards/CPD could be used to inculcate a more inclusive culture in the sector.

A theme common across workshop groups was the need for the sector to pool its resources to support joint inclusion efforts. The collaborative nature of the workshop also served as a starting point for reducing fragmentation and duplication in the sector, thereby enhancing the impact of existing diversity initiatives.

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

Towards an inclusive tomorrow

UCEM’s Vice Chancellor, Ashley Wheaton, remarked:

By uniting diverse voices and viewpoints, we seek to cultivate a collaborative approach towards EDI. Our goal is to synchronise existing EDI initiatives, enabling them to resonate with a unified and powerful voice, creating a sector that is equitable and respectful for everyone.

“UCEM extends its gratitude to all speakers, panellists and attendees for their invaluable contributions and looks forward to continuing these essential conversations for the advancement of a truly inclusive built environment.”

Angela Rushforth, Managing Director of Toolstation, commented:

The event marked a significant stride towards realising our collective vision for a more inclusive construction sector. As a representative of the Construction Inclusion Coalition, I am heartened by the consensus on the need for a unified approach to EDI across the industry as these are industry-wide challenges that require industry-wide solutions.”