I have thought long on hard on whether to write this or not. It’s a sensitive subject, and I’m writing it from a place of privilege, not having the personal experience of racism of discrimination other people have experienced. So, before I get into it, I would welcome comments on this article from people from the BAME community to help expand the conversation.
Our industry has a diversity problem. For as long as I have been involved in fenestration, I have noticed the severe lack of diversity in our sector. As an industry, we have been calling out for new talent and youth to come join our ranks for years. This is a barrier to that.
Aside from industry workforce issues, we have a wider responsibility as a so-called professional sector to become more socially inclusive, especially now when the world is as divided as ever.
Language and culture
I have worked in fenestration for nearly 15 years. In that time I have been on enough construction sites for jobs to last me a good while. Its a part of the job I enjoy, being able to get outside and seeing projects come to life. The one depressing thing however on almost all sites is the deeply rotten culture and the language that is used by workers. It’s industrial at best, downright racist and neanderthal-like at worst. To the point where I have had to leave sites early because of how uncomfortable it has made me.
If it’s making me feel uncomfortable, a 31 years old White guy, imagine what that kind of language does to those that its derogatory to. Words matter. Words contribute to culture, and right now in fenestration and the wider construction sector, there is a very negative culture that absolutely has to be addressed.
Fenestration at installer and fabrication level still has a “laddish” culture, with all the negative connotations that brings with it. Until we begin to see that change, then it will remain a barrier for more women and BAME people to join the sectors.
The big question is how you change that culture. Our industry is a fairly old industry in terms of the age of people working in it. We know we are lacking youth and its young people that have been brought up in a more open, inclusive society that could bring that change. How do you educate and open the minds of the people already working in fenestration? That’s the big task. One that falls on the shoulders of employers.
Work also needs to be done to change the image of construction, including fenestration. To show its benefits. Its contribution to society. That a good career can be made from it for all people who are willing to work hard at it. That there are some good companies out there with a kind culture that nurtures people and invests in them. If we can communicate to the public that there are positives to be taken out of what we do, then hopefully we begin to attract the young talent that we need.
If you thought that the construction industry wasn’t that diverse, you’d be right. According to a RICS article in 2019, Building magazine carried out a diversity survey in which they found just 4% of workers in UK construction were from a BAME background. That, frankly, is dire. The UK BAME population, according to Diversity UK, is close to 14%. If we are to achieve representative proportions of diversity in construction, then there is a long way to go.
For a more in-depth analysis as to the demographic make-up of senior management in construction, take a look at this tweet from Noble Francis:
Directors & Senior Managers in UK Construction by Ethnicity in 2020 Q1 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).#building #buildingindustry #builders #constructionsector #constructionuk #ukconstruction #contractors #constructionindustry #contractor pic.twitter.com/4R4QgYFmtL— Noble Francis (@NobleFrancis) June 22, 2020
That is simply not good enough. And is proof that there remain barriers to BAME talent reaching the upper levels of business in construction. I don’t have access to figures specific to fenestration, but I am almost certain they would be just as bad as the above.
It worries me that change isn’t going to happen all that fast. The reason is that in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a counter All Lives Matter movement. Worse was the banner that was flown over the Man City v Burnley game last night which said White Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter. We know that we don’t have to be told that. I fear that those saying “all lives matter” don’t understand the significance and importance of the message Black Lives Matter is trying to get through to people.
We’re saying Black Lives Matter not to say that they’re more important than others, but they are as important as all other lives. We’re saying it to try to educate the rest of the world that as a community, they have faced oppression, discrimination, inequalities and injustice in a way that White communities never have. These stem back from the age of slavery and have persisted to the present day. It’s a simple fact that the black community faces problems and discrimination in a way the white community have never experienced. That has to be acknowledged and why the “all lives matter” message simply isn’t helping.
There is much work to do. Debate will rage as to the best way to rectify the situation. What I hope is that the subject doesn’t go away. It has momentum right now and is receiving a lot of media attention. That focus needs to be turned into productive change.
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I would agree that parts of the industry have a diversity problem and the reasons are wide ranging. But, there are examples of sales teams, installers, business owners & factory workers etc. in certain areas that are extremely diverse. As much as I agree with your initial statement, diversity is a lot more complex and wide ranging. Where will our next leaders come from? Where is the balance of female leadership? Would the industry even know where to start with publishing gender pay gap data? It falls upon each & everyone of us involved in the industry to make a… Read more »
A lot of the issues of representation and participation within the Fenestration commercial sector of black men and women in my opinion stem from companies not taking young black people on as school leavers. Most of us today who have attained a degree of position, success and in depth knowledge in the industry started off on the tools, benches and chop saws back in the early 80’s when it was difficult to find work anyway but especially if you were black. You have to remember that this was Norman Tebbits get on your bike and knock on factory doors time.… Read more »
Mel, I think your article is well written and has impact