More black and minority ethnic (BME) people are choosing careers in construction and succeeding.
This is good news not only for employees, but also for the industry as a whole. Greater diversity sets a virtuous circle in motion, making companies more attractive to a broader range of talented individuals.
The same companies become more attractive to clients and more competitive too, because their customer base is better represented.
Their workforces can draw on more experiences and wider perspectives, to generate better ideas and progress more quickly.
Facing the challenges
Even so, more could be done to improve BME representation in construction – including changing perceptions about what the industry involves.
It will call for repairs to the so-called ‘leaky pipeline’, in which a significant number of BME people don’t make the transition from training to work. The phenomenon suggests that they are encountering barriers to employment or dropping out because their prospects aren’t sufficiently attractive.
And it will demand breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ that may prevent talented BME people from progressing to the top roles.
Many companies are already taking positive action, have robust equality and diversity policies, and schemes in place to support BME staff. Others have accelerated training programmes, and offer dedicated management and leadership courses to individuals who show potential.
Some of the UK’s most iconic buildings of recent years have come from the drawing boards of BME architects, despite the fact that only around 6% of those in the profession are from BME backgrounds.
For example, the dramatic lines and curves of the London Aquatics Centre, built for the 2012 Olympics, were the brainchild of Zaha Hadid, the British Iraqi-born architect, and her team, who have designed some of the most celebrated public buildings across the globe.
They were also responsible for Glasgow’s Riverside Museum, which opened in 2011 to great acclaim. It won the 2013 European Museum of the Year Award and attracts well over a million visitors every year, making it one of the most popular attractions in Scotland.
Zaha Hadid gained architecture’s top award, the Stirling Prize, twice, and is the only woman to have received the Royal Gold Medal, which since 1848 has been awarded to the finest and most influential architects in the world.
Among other leading lights is David Adjaye, the Tanzanian-born, British-Ghanaian architect, who on top of being designer of the year in 2011 and receiving an OBE for services to British architecture, was also named Britain’s most influential black person.
His works include the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC and the Whitechapel Idea Store, an elegant glass-fronted community building in east London.
And Simone de Gale, winner of architect of the year at the Women in Construction Awards 2017, who knew from the age of 10 that she wanted to be an architect. Her grandfather was a well-known architect in Jamaica, and other family members who also work in construction.
Written in the fabric
BME history is also bound up in Britain’s built environment, which for many hundreds of years has held stories of many millions of people on this island and across the world who have connections with it.
Monuments and statues across the country are testament to a shared past, including several that were recently given listed status in recognition of their importance to black history.
They include the bust of Nelson Mandela outside the Royal Festival Hall, and the 1980s landmark, Brixton Recreation Centre, both in London.
Few realise it, but one of the most prominent architectural motifs used in cemeteries, memorials, and as centrepieces at some of the country’s grandest country houses, such as Kingston Lacy in Dorset, originates from Africa.
The obelisk, like an elongated pyramid, was used by the ancient Egyptians at temple entrances. Cleopatra’s Needle, by far London’s oldest landmark, is one such obelisk, and actually predates its famous namesake queen by almost 1,500 years.
And coming much closer to the present day, Europe’s first traditional Hindu stone temple stands in Neasden north-west London.
When it was build in 1995 it was also the largest Hindu temple outside India, comprising almost 5,000 tonnes of limestone and marble, as well as 4,500 tonnes of concrete in its 6-foot thick foundation.
Helped by a team of 1,526 sculptors and stonemasons, the huge temple complex took only two years to build.
Diversity in the workforce
The construction industry works better with ethnically diverse workforces. Equality legislation not only outlaws discrimination but enables public bodies to use procurement to encourage diversity and create opportunities for BME people.