When we embarked upon the task of creating UK Construction Week in October 2014, David Cameron was still Prime Minister and there seemed to be an air of growing optimism about construction and the economy in general. We have had an eventful few years since then, the impacts of which will no doubt reverberate for decades.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to start talking about Brexit, because I think we are all so weary and tired of the subject. But given the monumentally turbulent political backdrop we find ourselves in, I can’t help but feel this has brought equality, diversity and inclusion to the forefront in so many conversations in so many industries. Perhaps that is the silver lining?
I know that the momentum around equality, diversity and inclusion has been building for decades in all walks of life, but in construction there are still some pretty significant corners to turn.
Perhaps a perfect example of this was following last year’s UK Construction Week. If you didn’t see any of the coverage at the time, there was a situation where one of our exhibitors used showgirls as part of their Vegas-themed stand. Some people rightly called it out as inappropriate, but then the trolls got involved and it all got very nasty, particularly online.
It was so disappointing that this one thing undermined and overshadowed all the great work all our contributors had previously done to raise the issue of equality and diversity in construction. We had taken this issue seriously from the first day we launched the show and had made a commitment to make sure it had a generous share in our conference programme. Suddenly though, we had to face up to the fact that this was not enough, that we too had made mistakes, and we had to defend ourselves, our ethics, and our reputation.
We learnt an awful lot from the situation, namely that there is so much more work to be done in this area. The social media backlash really surprised me, because it highlighted some archaic opinions still exist and people are still willing to air them publicly. That has to be corrected, and these people need to get with the programme, or they will be left behind.
I was really grateful to a number of people who offered us advice in the months that followed and in our planning sessions for this year’s event. They have helped us bring in a new code of conduct for stand holders (the first major UK trade show to do this) as well as create and launch the UK Construction Week Role Models.
The idea behind this was simple. We want to find the amazing people who have broken the mould; those who have overcome hurdles to succeed in construction, who love their job so much they can inspire others to take up similar roles. We then want to use UK Construction Week as a way to give them a platform, securing publicity about their story, and reach the next generation through the event but also getting into schools over the next 12 months and telling their story.
If last year’s event taught us anything it was that we have an opportunity to make a difference, because so many people engaged in the debate.
As one of our show steering committee members put it, we were preaching to the converted in our seminars because they tend to be the enlightened. But when the conversation goes onto social media, we ended up seeing the root cause of the problem, the people still working in construction who don’t want it to be equal and who don’t want it to change.
UKCW Steering Committee video: https://youtu.be/8Q86bEMxyP8
Rather than get nasty about it and slinging insults at each other, what they should be doing is coming to the seminars on the positive impacts of diversity on construction and trying to argue against it there. I want this year’s UKCW to be the most compelling case for diversity in construction we have seen in the UK, and for that to grow each year.
I hope you can join us next week.
UK Construction Week is free to attend, and is open 9-11 October at the NEC Birmingham. Click Here to register
Here are my recommended seminars and debates for this year’s UKCW that will tackle diversity in construction: