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London Infrastructure Summit - attracting more talent from wider backgrounds into construction
13 August 2021
I can’t wait to take part in this session on diversity and inclusion in the infrastructure sector. Not only is it going to be my first in person panel (indeed first face to face event) since early 2020, but more importantly because it’ll offer an opportunity to hear how things have changed since we completed our research for the Mayor’s London Infrastructure Group (LIG) in February last year.
Our work combined a review of the data, alongside in-depth interviews with infrastructure stakeholders. Delivered in partnership with the GLA, the research revealed a complex picture whereby challenges common to a wide range of sectors coincide with some very specific barriers that face particular groups when considering a role or career in infrastructure, to hold back diversity and inclusion in that sector in London.
Those common challenges tend to sit ‘upstream’ of any career choices, narrowing down the options and reducing the diversity of the talent from which infrastructure, alongside so many other sectors, is able to draw. A review of data on D&I confirmed what we already know: that individuals in certain groups – including women, LGBTQ+, those from specific ethnic minority communities, and/or those who have disabilities – face a range of barriers more acutely than do their white, male, straight and non-disabled peers. These traverse issues such as child poverty, health and wellbeing, and education (from early years through to university and workplace training), and reduce the diversity and inclusivity of the available workforce.
Within the London infrastructure sector (and in the context of a significant skills shortage, even before the end of the Brexit transition period), stakeholders were clear about the need to attract more talent from a wider range of backgrounds into the workforce. Pre-pandemic, the sector faced a broad set of barriers to greater diversity: a lack of data on which to base an inclusion strategy; limited understanding of the sector and the roles that might be available within it; and perceptions around culture and working styles that reduce the likelihood that people from underrepresented groups might think infrastructure is a sector ‘for me’.
Since our research and recommendations were published, the GLA have launched an Inclusive Employers Toolkit, and are now working with a specialist consultant to build a data-collection framework in partnership with LIG member organisations. However, these steps come in the midst of enormous changes to ways of working as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. What, if anything, does ‘hybrid working’ mean in the context of infrastructure? If it’s happening at all, is it reducing or reinforcing barriers to diversity in the sector? Or is it putting up new ones? How has the end of the Brexit transition period affected the availability of labour? Has it simply aggravated the skills crisis? Or has it forced firms in the sector to look to a more diverse workforce with renewed commitment? I’m looking forward to hearing what’s shifted, and where the new barriers and opportunities are when we all get together on 14th September.
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